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FERME LAB 005 (2)Flat feet is a condition where the arch of the feet undergo collapse and flatten: That is why it is often also referred to as fallen arches. Individuals with flat feet can suffer from a variety of foot ailments, pain, and fatigue, which can also extend to the legs and back. This condition is present in up to 30% of all people, and it is unfortunately not reversible by the use of arch-shaping shoe inserts, whether over the counter or prescribed by a doctor.

Studies Suggest Shoe Wearing Predisposes To Flat Feet!

A very interesting Indian study (1) analyzed the footprints of 2,300 children. It is commonplace in India for typical children to be barefoot most of the time, with only the higher classes usually shod in shoes. It found that the incidence of flat feet among children that used footwear was over three times greater than those who commonly played and ran in bare feet. The study unequivocally states that “shoe wearing predisposes to flat foot”. Flat feet can also be due to other factors, such as genetics, injury, etcetera.

A Remarkable Example of Barefoot Running Helping Raise the Foot’s Arch!

There have long been anecdotal reports that barefoot running can actually raise the arch of the foot and reverse flat feet, but now we have available the remarkable case study presented by a 41 year old male who recorded his foot print prior to engaging in a six month campaign of walking and running barefoot.

This individual has no history of medical problems and after a lifetime of conventional shoe wearing began to average 35 kilometers per week in running barefoot. He also shunned his footwear for most of this time in his everyday activities.

Remarkable Before & After Foot Prints!

The Before & After footprints posted above clearly show how the remarkable transition from a flattened foot (or  flat foot) to a healthy and normal arch. The individual also reports that since he has been barefoot, he has been suffering far less knee and ankle pain and swelling through his running.

Supportive Shoes Limit The Motion Exercise Of Foot Muscles!

This person’s fascinating experience is an example that even the most advanced shoes cannot provide the incalculable benefits of walking and running in bare feet. Indeed, supportive shoes tend to limit the motion exercise of foot muscles which can lead to further flattening of the arch!

Perhaps, it’s time to shun your shoes and regain flexibility and strength in your feet! Your arches will thank you!

(BTW, I would love to hear more “foot” reports – good and bad –  from other barefoot runners and walking! Please feel free to post comments with any foot-altering changes you have noticed as a result of barefoot activity.)

Key To References

1) Rao UB, Joseph B. The influence of footwear on the prevalence of flat foot. A survey of 2300 children. J Bone Joint Surg Br 74 (4): 525-7.

  • Ben701

    I've been running without shoes since Feb 2010 after seeing a runner in Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC running without shoes. I can now run up to 10k at a time with no ill effects. My knees and back feel better than when I was running in shoes and I have stronger feet and better balance. I doubt I will return to running shoes except during winter.


  • Dr. Nirenberg

    That is great. Thank you for the comment.

    Perhaps, your back and knees are doing better because when you run without shoes, you “feel” the ground more and tend to lend lighter to decrease the shock. Less impact on the feet likely results in less impact through the whole skeleton.

  • Daniel Howell

    I'm doing my own studies on this, but I've not seen anything like that! I'm using college students so maybe that's a factor.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Are your students barefoot 24/7 like this man? Supportive shoes act to weaken feet, off setting barefoot running

  • Bethbirk

    As a study of one, my feet were very flat and after a year and a half of barefoot and/or minimalist running, they have a really nice arch now. I don't go barefoot all the time but now I never buy shoes with arch support, only the flat kind. That seems to do pretty much the same thing if you work in an office and cannot get by with the barefoot thing.

  • bordman

    My daughter has almost never worn shoes – she is barefoot most of the time; she has very flat feet. can you please explain that? If you can't explain it, then you need to stop worting such nonense, as my n=1 trumps your n=1.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Thanks for the reply. You need to understand that flat feet can be due to MANY reasons – genetics, ligamentus laxity, a tarsal coalition (or fusion of bones), obesity and a host of other reasons. Sadly, some people will always have flat feet, regardless of how much barefoot activity and exercise they do.

  • Merlock

    I have been diagnosed with flat feet since childhood, since age 20 or 21 I have been a lot of my time barefeet, when I discovered all the barefoot stuff, which I imediately tune in, and understand. what I like to say is it is true that FLAT FEET CAN TURN INTO FEET WITH ARCH. It has happen with myself, I have stronger, bigger, better- structured feet than before. There are some really foolish lies within many doctors regarding foot, and this are : 1.that you need orthotics to correct your flat feet, need cushioned footwear or footwear with arch support to stabilize your feet. THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE, go barefeet , go slow/progressive , add some specific exercises to it (like using tennis balls or half balls and standing on them, this will align feet, ankle and skeleton, also standing hip wide, feet out, bending knees a little bit and pushing each knee apart while trying to lift your arches without the balls of the feet going off the ground). scenario: structurally aligned feet, srong feet, resilient arches flexible feet, simetrical lower limbs, ultimate whole body, running, jumping, doing whatever freely vigorously.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Thanks for the comment and your great success story. Hopefully, the above case study and your success will inspire others!

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is great to hear about people shunning supportive shoes and strengthening their feet!

  • RDog

    I find it interesting that a Dr. will take a photo that was posted on an online forum as definitive proof. Do you at any time have a face to face with this man? Have you personally seen his feet? Are you 100% sure, without a doubt that these are real, unphotoshopped picturse? If so, how? I am very sceptical that a foot can change this dramatically in 6 months.

  • Beatski

    yeah, because if it doesnt work for everyone, it must work for no one.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Thanks for the note These are great concerns, and I have done everything I can to directly verify his improvement with him. It is but one case, and a lone case study. Let me be clear: I believe it is possible for your foot's arch to improve through barefoot activity.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    I sense bordman is really angry about this person's success. Oddly, his post reveals a strange contradiction: the second half of his post is clearly “anti-barefoot activity”, yet he says that he has had his daughter go barefoot. Hmmmm…..?

  • Chicago Podiatric Surgeons

    interesting article and comments but definitely no conclusive evidence one way or the other

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Thank you for your comment. Keep in mind, “Conclusive Evidence” can at times be elusive.

  • Bob Neinast

    Over on the SBL Blog, I've pointed out that “flat feet” do not necessarily equate to “fallen arches”. In barefooted populations, having a low arch really doesn't translate into foot problems. It is only in shod populations that the shoe leads to a weak arch and subsequent flattening.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    This is a very interesting theory on flat feet. I am not aware of solid research, though, showing less eversion (or less pronation) in non-shod persons with flat feet. I would be interested in seeing such research. Intuitively, it makes sense. Thanks.

  • Ajheddings

    I read so much about the benefits of barefoot running specifically, but there is very little talk about the benefits of strength training in bare feet. The kettlebell community has been passing on the wisdom of barefoot training for years, teaching the technique of “rooting” the feet to the ground. Rooting is the strength technique of grabbing the ground with the toes and applying torque to the feet to corkscrew them into the ground. The neuromuscular activation and increased recruitment of muscle fiber in the legs, hips and glutes can be traced directly to specific bundles of neuroreceptors activated in the feet. Rooting the feet is a practiced muscle tensioning skill that shares it's modern use in powerlifting, gymnastics, strongman skills and martial arts (think Bruce Li's one-inch punch). Using the feet as part of strength development is a lost art that is unknown to many modern “technology shoed” athletes. I have been strength training in Vibrams or Chuck Taylor's (a size too big) for 3 years and have overcome plantar fasciitis and had major gains in strength and endurance. I have read several testimonials from kettlebell lifters who have raised their arches and changed their shoe size simply through the transition to barefoot strength training (NOT bodybuilding).

    The transition to running barefoot has been not nearly as easy, primarily because of my own impatience. Here is a good rule of thumb. Whatever adaptation schedule you set for yourself to transition to barefoot running, consider doubling the time line and recovery between barefoot sessions. Also consider increasing the running time/distance at half the rate you initially planned on. By rushing into the transition too fast I suffered 5 calf strains over a period of 8 months. I have gone into a regimen of soft tissue therapy, both with deep tissue massage and self myofascial release, and have stretched my running transition period to one year. It may take 6 months or as little as 3, but either way the adaptation process will be extremely conservative this final time.

  • Ajheddings

    “…also standing hip wide, feet out, bending knees a little bit and pushing each knee apart while trying to lift your arches without the balls of the feet going off the ground”

    What you describe here is the start of the horse stance used in many martial arts which puts the body in a stacked alignment position. It is where the “chi” is developed and the position of power that allowed Bruce Li to deliver the one-inch punch that was capable of knocking a man to the ground. The one-inch punch is not an illusion or a trick, but a demonstration of how the feet are the foundation of functional full body power generation and transference. If you are not familiar with it, research the horse stance and the alignment of the “4 knots” . You will appreciate it. There is a reason why martial arts are practiced in bare feet.

  • boardmansucks

    How old is your daughter? Arches of the foot don't form in children reaches between age 3 and 6

  • energymonkey

    You might be able to get away with something from I do at my work! Also, I think many more options are coming out now, including the new balance minimus line and merrell's barefoot line. I used to be “addicted” to arch support. After a year of weaning off support and padding, I tried my old orthotics for fun- My arches don't even rest on them!

  • scott

    My wife did this too. She had flat feet and after switching to barefoot/soft stars/and VFF she developed a small arch. 6 months later she developed a normal arch. She did develop tendinitis in the achilles early on so anyone attempting this must take it really slow. Her foot also shrunk 1 full shoe size. We took pictures and documented the whole journey. Crazy that podiatrists are trained Drs and couldn't tell us how to fix her pain. Pain is now gone and she can run and walk with much less pain than in the past. Just wish we would have done this earlier.

  • Kyle Kranz

    I have ran my last 3,000 miles in Vibram Fivefingers and my feet are still flat.

  • Sallnikolas

    That is a cool story.  I am 24 with spongy flat feet, or the kind they say that are flexible when pressure or weight is taken off of them.  How is your wifes posture and general sense of well being in her feeet?  I seem to get lower back pain often and sore feet in general due to bad feet effects associated with really flat feet.

  • Brandon Macy

    Aside from the fact that this is purely anecdotal evidence, which means nothing in EITHER direction, I have a separate question:  do “flat feet” need to be “cured” in the first place?  Just as there are short people and tall people, some people have higher and lower arches.  Problems tend to occur more when an arch is too unstable (flatten) or too rigid, regardless of its starting point.  The bottom line is comfort.  A person with a low arch with no pain doesn't need to do anything to create an arch, even if it could be done.  Plenty of people with high arches experience plenty of problems from calluses to ankle sprains.  This discussion of whether barefoot running or flat shoes may be of benefit because it might create an arch is, to me, a non-issue.

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Thanks for your question! Just because a foot has a lower arch than is “normal” does not necessarily mean it requires treatment, in my opinion. You need to look at your patient and their history. Is he or she having pain or trouble walking (functioning). Also, if the arch was higher and is abruptly becoming lower – with or without pain, it may mean their is a underlying problem (like a posterior tibial tendon tear). I hope this helps you with your patients. Thanks!

  • mariah

    Hi scott, I am a 21 year old student and I also suffer with flat feet. I am very interested the experience your wife had. Do you have a blog or photos?? If so could you please email me and let me know? My email address is I’ll really really appreciate your help.  Thanks. Mariah

  • Sabjork

    I notice that sprinters and distance runners often have flat feet. The absence of the extra muscles and tendons in the shin and calf area required to raise the arch translates to lighter lower leg weight and increased speed. In basketball and tennis the athlete is less apt to turn the ankle outward resulting in fewer ankle sprains.

  • Levi Webb

    Thank you. this is the information I was looking for.

  • syntax

    Hi Scott, would it be possible to contact your wife via. email to talk to her aobut her recovery.  I am having extensive issues with flat feet, over pronation and could really use some advice.  I have been told to get leg braces.

  • Caleb

    I’ll try it and see, hopefully I can see some results from doing barefoot exercises. My biggest concern with flat feet is people find them weird and unappealing just like acne.

  • Markburgan

    I have been flat-footed all of my 54 years and I love them just the way they are.  The occupations I have had entailed long hours of being on my feet and I found that I had an advantage over my arched-footed colleagues as I never had foot pain/fatigue and the other co-workers ALWAYS complained that their feet hurt all the time.  Flat feet are a gift and I would never try to get them to be arched.  I also go barefoot nearly all the time, and when out and about I wear soft, all-leather moccasins to keep my feet flexible.  My exhaustive research into flat foot issues clearly points out that the vast majority of people with flat feet have no problems, however the podiatric  “industry”  wants us to believe the lie that flat feet are really bad things to have and must be treated.  As one of my research articles points out, there’s more opportunism in podiatry than true professionalism.  There’s obviously no money to be made when a Dr tells patients that nothing needs to be done and to leave their flat feet alone.  Caveat emptor (buyer beware)!

  • Gu5to

    Hi guys. I’ve got at feet and I just bought a pair of vivibarefoot shoes. I’m hoping to fix a lifetime of foot ankle and knee injuries. It has started. Very well but my keenness has left me injured. It seems I’m reliving old injuries and the latest one is an injury on the top/outside of my foot, close to the ankle. I twisted it about 3 months ago and it obviously healed whilst wearing shoes with thick soles and air bubbles. Now I spend all my time in minimalist shoes. About 3 days ago I was pushing myself a little too hard and the same injury came back. I know I just need to slow down and maybe intergrate some exercises. Has anyone got any advice?

  • mike s

    I find this article very interesting. I have had flat feet all my life and more often than not don’t wear shoes or I wear flip flips. I just recently took up running. I will have to try barefoot and see if it helps with the issues associated with a fallen arch.

  • lilmiss

    It is not a non issue because I think that it is obvious that this article speaks to people for whom having flat feet does cause a problem, duh.

  • Asdxx

     “their is a underlying problem” really DOCTOR?
    *THERE is AN underlying problem*

  • osol

     DOCTOR, not ENGLISH MAJOR. It was a mistake, get over yourself. I’ve had plenty of wonderful doctors with heavy accents and a few grammatical errors, that didn’t make them any less of doctors. Look at his last name, Nirenberg, he could easily be from another country.
    Thank you Dr. Nirenberg for all of the information you are providing! Please don’t let jerks on the internet discourage you.

  • Paula

    I had a doctor thinking like you when I was 7, sadly my parents listened to him and now I suffer from a lot of pain, I had no idea what it was, I accepted my flat feet the way they were, I used to do a lot of sports too and never had a problem. Last year my knees started being a horrible pain, my hips and back were suffering from it too, I went to the doctor and he realized my feet were leaning inwards quite a lot and my arch was nonexistent, there was also a bulge of skin and soft muscle coming out from the place where the arch is supposed to be, supporting all my weight, my feet are now deformed because my parents listened to a person like you who is lucky enough to not have pain YET. Just because you haven’t had a problem with it so far, it doesn’t mean it is like that for absolutely everyone, there are people with flat feet that have unbearable pain.
    Remember all flat feet cases are different, depends a lot on genetics, body complexion, daily activities, etc.. so don’t generalize with something that can cause a lot of problems in some people’s lives.

  • Markburgan

    You are just going to have to realize that most people have pain of some sort or another. My pain issues have to do with arthritis in my right shoulder, but I live with it.  

    You have problems with your flat feet?  So what!  I know a lot of people who have serious pain issues with their ARCHED feet, especially those who have back pain from having rigid, high-arched feet.  So don’t go castigating me for not sympathizing with you and your type.  Pain is a natural condition of life so deal with it!

  • Anonymous

    iam 19 year old and i have flate feet. i hate these because i want to go in army and flate feeter cannot go in force. i run very good as the army qualification want. only a problem is, flate feet. sir pls help me. i want to make my arch very quickly. pls sir. its an request. sir u can also email me on this if there is exercises., also explain me. thank u. . . . . . .

  • Anonymous

    I am not Dr. Nirenberg, but I can tell you from experience that you’re just out of luck.

  • Erik

    What about if the diagnosis is a fallen transversal arch (the width of the foot, not the lenghth). It’s painful and started 5 months ago (I am 43). Wondering if barefoot running can help this condition.

  • ryan