One of the most beautiful things about nature is the diversity of life. There are so many variations to life’s designs with varying shapes and sizes. We, humans, show a lot of variations ourselves and one such variation is what we would like to talk about today.
It is said that the more distant a part of the body is from the head the less attention we provide to it, so it comes as no surprise that we don’t usually notice the different types of feet people have. One such variation is when people have Flat feet and most of the time this question raises Are barefoot shoes good for flat feet?
What are Flat feet?
Most adults will be familiar with the soft arch in the soles of their feet, what may surprise you is that about 30% of people don’t have this arch. This minority of people grow up with flat soles that touch the ground, having such feet are known as “Flatfooted”.
What is surprising though is that all babies are born flatfooted, this condition is called “Flexible flatfoot” and over time as the child develops and starts to become mobile by standing and moving about, usually by age 6, the foot develops the arc in the sole that we are familiar with. However, in some cases, this does not occur and the child continues to be flatfooted.
“Rigid flatfoot” is the condition where the foot continues to have a flat sole into adulthood. This can be due to genetics, an injury, old age, or another medical condition. It isn’t fair to say that being flatfooted is definitely going to be a problem for those who have such feet, although it is noted that in some cases having flat feet can be painful – depending on the structure of the foot.
By design, when we walk or run barefoot the contact with the ground allows our brain to calculate our body with respect to the ground and we are able to move intuitively with respect to this information. This means that for our body to move in the best kind of coordination, our feet have to provide our brain with accurate information.
With contemporary footwear though, that is shoes with heels, our feet don’t provide the brain with correct information. When we walk or run with heeled shoes the heel and sole of our feet are raised and usually at an angle to the ground and usually cushioned.
Due to this our brain has to make adjustments in our movements and doesn’t activate all muscles in the feet which makes movement less stressful on the feet but since we also don’t travel only on foot – it comes at the cost of weaker muscles in the foot.
Some have even theorized that it’s due to the nature of our footwear that we end up with a lot of injuries or lack proper balance and coordination in our movements.
Needless to say that the more usual design in footwear is not supportive of flatfooted people. Due to the flat sole of their feet, they find using traditional footwear to be uncomfortable and in many cases- painful.
Minimalist or Barefoot Shoes
To address the concerns with traditional shoes, Minimalist shoes enter the scene. They have reduced cushioning, thin soles, and a wider toe box. They are also far more lightweight compared to traditional shoes.
There is also research that shows wearing a minimalist or barefoot shoe can help improve foot strength and arch function much like how children develop arches insoles due to initially having more direct contact with the ground when they first start moving by themselves.
While they are available in varying styles they are most popular with people that enjoy running. The trend of running with minimalist shoes has come to be known as “Natural running”.
Are barefoot shoes good for flat feet?
Barefoot by the virtue of their shape and design are actually ideal for people who are flatfooted. These shoes having smaller heels and reduced arches allow for maximum contact with the ground which fits the shape of the people with flat feet. However, it is important to select the right type of shoes for your feet, especially when most shoes are marketed to the arched footed consumer. To help you identify barefoot shoes/slippers or sandals here is a list of their characteristics:
Reduced soles or No elevated heels : These shoes will have almost or no heels.
Minimal padding : Cushions or padding are added in the inner side of the shoe where the feet land. These shoes are designed to maximize contact with the ground.
Extremely thin sole : Barefoot shoes have very thin soles that allow your feet greater sensory feedback from the ground.
Flexible material : The shoes should be a flexible material that will allow your feet to adapt to the different styles over time, including changes in the arch for people with flat feet.
Lightweight construction : The shoes are geared to allow maximum movement and hence are very light compared to contemporary shoes.
Wide toe box : The toe box is the area of the shoe where your toes end, these shoes have a wider toe box compared to traditional shoes.
Minimal Arch support : To maximize the use of all muscles in the foot these shoes provide little support for the arches in the feet.
Using Barefoot shoes
If you have been using traditional shoes for most of your life it is not advisable to immediately switch to barefoot shoes, even if you have flat feet. Due to the nature of our development, our body and muscles get used to the way we do things.
Wearing traditional shoes has our brain calculating our balance, gait, and strides in a certain way, switching to the flattest shoes out of the blue will just make the experience a very painful one very fast. Using barefoot shoes means you will be using all the muscles and tendons in your feet more, including the arches.
It is advisable to transition into using the shoes, first by using them just for walking a few days a week and then slowly start using them more frequently as you get more and more comfortable wearing them.
Once your brain and feet start getting comfortable with all the new information, you can start using them more often and eventually even practice running in them. Try to walk barefoot as much as possible around the house this is another way to strengthen the foot muscles and get them ready to adjust to the different shoe styles.
Another useful tip is not to jump into buying Zero drop shoes (the least amount of heel), buy the 4 mm heeled shoes, and start to get a feel first.
Should you use flat shoes?
Unfortunately, there isn’t conclusive evidence for how good using flatter shoes is but there is still plenty that suggests contemporary shoes provide us with more comfort at the cost of muscle strength but everyone is different.
If you have flat feet then you definitely want to try switching to barefoot or minimalist shoes. Their design is more suitable for this foot type. They keep the feet touching the ground as much as possible and that in turn provides the brain with more accurate sensory information in order to adjust the movement.
These shoes also have minimal support for your foot so using them will work out all your muscles in the feet and some studies show running or walking barefoot develops the arch in the feet which allows for improvement in gait during walks and runs.
They are also made of flexible and lightweight material so when you move you will not be moving while dragging the weight of the shoes with you, allowing for an easier time moving. When selecting a pair, ensure that the shoes fit like a glove and are snug with minimal space around the toes and heels.
Switching from heeled shoes to flat shoes:
Flat shoes. However, it is not a good idea to simply switch from heeled shoes to minimalist shoes overnight.
It is very likely your body has developed getting used to walking around in traditional footwear over decades, switching immediately to flatter contact could lead to pain or injury in the feet or tendons in the legs.
So do your research on barefoot shoes available in the market near you. Start off with higher heels and slowly work down to the shoes with no heels. It would be good to practice walking barefoot around the house and that could give you a very good idea of how these shoes will work out for you in the long run.
Additionally, this will help strengthen the muscles in the foot and you will be more comfortable when you make the switch.
It’s possible to have flat feet due to multiple reasons aside from just genetics, some people develop flat feet due to old age, and obesity is also correlated with flat feet. If you have flat feet due to an injury then it is advisable that you first consult a Podiatrist (Chiropodist) before switching to minimalist footwear.