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047986874-young-woman-running-track-and- (1)Few people would deny that exercise is good for us, and our feet. Now, mounting evidence suggests that exercising the foot’s arch muscles can not only strengthen our feet, but may even increase the height of our foot’s arch.

Our feet are one of the most muscle-rich areas of our body. In fact, there are 18 muscles within the arch of our feet, with additional muscles originating in our leg, inserting into the arches.

It is well known that the more a muscle is worked, the stronger it becomes. Of course, the converse is also true (we have all heard “use it or lose it”).

Now, breakthrough research by Headlee and Fiolkowski shows that when the muscles within the arches of our feet weaken, the arches will actually lower and become flatter.

If the foot’s arch decreases when our foot muscles weaken, it reasons that strengthening the muscles in our foot will raise the arch. Anecdotal evidence from runners who run barefoot shows this to be the case. These barefoot runners relate stronger arches and higher arches. Research by Robbins supports these findings.

Robbins showed radiographic changes in the feet of runners who gave up their shoes and began to run barefoot. In his study, the bones that make up the ball of the foot were shown—radiographically—to move closer toward the rear of the foot. That is, barefoot activity shortened the length of the foot’s arch. Robbins paper did not say the arch increased in these barefoot runners, but when the foot’s arch shortens, it height must rise.

Recently, Mark’s Daily Apple commented on the beneficial effects of exercise on feet, and I second it. Shoes lessen the need for and use of most of our foot’s muscles. As a result, the muscles weaken and the arch will weaken.

It’s time to take off your shoes and start exercising your feet.

I have written previously about foot exercises HERE.

The best foot exercise is barefoot activity — walking, running and playing barefoot! Barefoot activity is the best way to strengthen the muscles of your feet (assuming that you have good health — that is, you are not diabetic or plagued with poor circulation or other ailments).

Like any exercise, start slow. Let your foot muscles gradually adapt to barefoot activity, and only go barefoot in safe environments — there’s no point having good foot muscles if there is a nail in your foot!

Image CreditYoung woman running at a track and field stadium Photos by Pond5


Fiolkowski P, Brunt D, Bishop M, Woo R, Horodyski M. Intrinsic pedal musculature support of the medial longitudinal arch: an electromyography study. J Foot Ankle Surg. 2003 Nov-Dec;42(6):327-33.

Headlee DL, Leonard JL, Hart JM, Ingersoll CD, Hertel J. Fatigue of the plantar intrinsic foot muscles increases navicular drop. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2008 Jun;18(3):420-5. Epub 2007 Jan 8.

Robbins SE, Hanna AM. Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations.Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1987 Apr;19(2):148-56.

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  • Greg Morgan

    Thank you for the useful information. I know my own arches need more work despite hiking barefoot. I know have more evidence that I am doing the right thing to improve the health of my feet.

  • Attsucks

    It’s not true for everyone. The tops of my feet hurt after going barefoot for a day or two.

  • Dr. Nirenberg