When it comes to your feet, the arch is probably the part of the foot that needs the most care and support. If not properly supported, you put yourself at risk for things like plantar fasciitis or fallen arches.
Keeping your arch properly supported may sound easy, but you need to understand what kind of arch you have in order to figure out the right shoes for your feet.
It can be quite difficult to find shoes that really fit your arch. Perhaps you need a stability shoe, but you really like a shoe that has no stability features. The good news is that you can easily work around this using insoles or other shoes with good support.
The benefits of insoles are enormous. You don’t need to get rid of all the shoes you have if they’re wrong for your arch. You can simply add an insole that offers the right support for your feet, and keep your favorite pair of shoes.
Let’s have a look at the arch of the foot, what it does, and why it’s important to support it properly if you want to avoid injury and pain.
Understanding the Arch
There are actually three arches in the foot. First, the anterior transverse arch, which is in the ball of the foot and runs from one side to the other, horizontally across the foot.
There are also two longitudinal arches—the medial and the lateral arch. The medial arch is the one we refer to when we talk about arch support in a shoe.
They are formed by the metatarsal and tarsal bones and the curved shape is maintained by ligaments and tendons.
Function of the Arch
There are two main functions of the arches. The first function is to support the body weight while you’re standing still or moving.
The medial and lateral arches of your foot are like the shock absorbers of the body. When you stand, your body weight places pressure on your feet, but when you walk, that bodyweight is doubled. When you run, it can go up to 3 or 4 times the force of your body weight that’s being loaded on your feet.
The curved arch shape absorbs shock on every step. It also helps to create flexibility for walking or running, as well as helping you to balance properly when you’re on your feet.
As well as absorbing shock and protecting the feet, the arches also work together with the bones, ligaments, and tendons in your feet to propel you forward when you walk or run.
Different Types of Arches
When it comes to arch types, there are 3 different types of arch that your foot could fall under—normal or neutral arches, high arches, and low or fallen arches.
Neutral arches are the most common, and the majority of shoes on the market cater to these types of arches. This means that your arch is not high or low, but rather is in the middle.
People with high arches are the least common of the three arch types. It’s also known as pes cavus or cavus foot.
The height of the arch will vary from person to person, but most often, the person will end up walking on the outer bone of the foot and missing out on the shock-absorbing properties of the arch.
Those with low arches are usually overpronators, which means their feet roll inwards as they walk. This can lead to injury and pain.
Flat feet can be either flexible flat foot or rigid flat foot. This absorbs shock better than a high arch, but still loses some of its effectiveness.
How to Figure Out Your Arch Type
You can figure out what arch type you have by doing the wet cardboard test. You will need either a brown paper bag or a piece of cardboard, and somewhere nearby that you can wet your feet.
Place the paper bag or cardboard on the floor near where you will be wetting your feet. Wet the bottom of your feet well, so they’re wet but not completely dripping. Then, step on the cardboard or paper bag and make sure that you leave proper footprints.
You will need to stand up properly on the cardboard and place all your body weight on your feet, like you would standing up normally.
Stand for just a few seconds and then step off to the side. Examine the paper bag or cardboard. You should be able to determine your arch type by looking at the impressions of your feet.
If you see a thick stripe down the outer side of your foot and a small indent where the arch is, you most likely have a neutral or normal foot.
If the strip down the outer side is very thin and there’s a large gap where the arch is supposed to be, that’s an indication of a high arch.
But if your footprint looks like it has no arch at all and it’s a full footprint, then you most likely have a low arch—flat feet.
What Are Arch Supports?
Most shoes come with some kind of arch support built-in. Usually, this kind of support comes from the insoles that have been added to the shoe. These can also be known as arch supports, inserts, or orthotics.
But arch supports come in many other forms as well. You can buy generic insoles, metatarsal pads—which support the anterior transverse arch—or go to a podiatrist and have custom-made, rigid orthotics created just for your foot.
Arch support can be anything that provides additional support to the arches of the feet. Most references to arch supports are insoles.
Who Needs Arch Support?
Everybody needs arch support to some degree. Even if you have a neutral arch, you need to make sure that your shoes are providing the right amount of support to keep your foot and ankle joints properly aligned and keep you pain-free.
That being said, there are some people who need arch support more than others. People who have high arches will need shoes or insoles with a robust enough arch to prevent their feet from falling over from lack of support.
Those who have low arches will need sturdy arch support to prevent overpronation and boost the arches to align the joints.
Also, people who spend many hours on their feet every day may need extra arch support to prevent their feet from fatiguing. People who stand or walk on hard, unforgiving surfaces like concrete would also benefit from extra arch support.
Benefits of Insoles
Insoles are an excellent tool to help make sure that your feet are properly supported. Using the right insole can help you get the right support for your feet without needing to replace every pair of shoes in your collection!
The right insole will also help you to feel much more comfortable and reduce foot pain that you may have been feeling, as it aligns the joints of the foot, which leads to aligned joints the whole way up the leg.
It will help to distribute the pressure of your body weight evenly across your foot, which reduces pressure and prevents the arch from taking on excessive force, which could lead to a collapsed arch over time.
When your body weight is evenly placed over the foot and your joints are aligned, your posture and balance will be improved. When you’re using the right support that prevents your foot from twisting, you will also notice that your foot pain improves or disappears.
Another benefit of using insoles is that they can protect the inside of your shoes. So instead of replacing the full shoe because the footbed has fallen flat, all you need to do is replace the insoles for a fraction of the cost.
What Shoes Are Recommended to Reduce Pronation?
If you overpronate—roll your feet inwards when you walk or run—you may be at risk of injury, especially if you’re wearing the wrong kind of shoes.
You want to be wearing motion control shoes if your overpronation is mild, and stability shoes—also called support shoes—if you’re a severe overpronator.
Motion control shoes often have heavy stability features built-in. Traditionally, this has been what’s called a medial post, which is essentially some thick, stiff foam on the inside portion of the midsole. Stability shoes tend to have less robust stabilizing features built into them but work the same way.
The one that’s correct for you will depend on the degree of your pronation. If you try on a stability shoe and it feels uncomfortable and like there’s something in the shoe that shouldn’t be there, then a motion control shoe may be the better option for you.
That being said, you can wear any shoe you want to if it has a removable insole. All you do is remove the original insole and add one that provides the best support for your foot.
That way, you can choose the upper, style, and features of the shoe that you really like and simply replace the existing insole with one that suits your foot.
You can either move the insoles from shoe to shoe, or you can kit out all of your shoes with their own pairs of insoles.