The type of arch you have is one of the most important considerations in determining which type of running shoe is best for your feet. Modern running shoes are developed with optimal combinations of support, stability and cushioning technologies for each type of arch. These specialized running shoe types have names like motion control, stability, or neutral-cushioning, which may leave you wondering which ones are right for your feet. The following will help you understand the usual differences between low, medium and high arched feet as well as the type of running shoe that best fits each of their needs.
The Flat Foot/Low Arch
A flat foot (or foot with a very low arch) is characterized by having no visible arch shape and generally lays flat to the ground when the person is standing. The flattening of the arch indicates that the ligaments, tendons, and tissues in the foot are weaker and more flexible than normal.
After heel strike, a flat foot will be seen to lean inward excessively during the gait cycle. This excessive pronation indicates that the arch is collapsing too much and that the foot and ankle are not providing enough stability for the body. Also, extra stress is placed on the big toe and second toe at the end of the stride.
The best type of shoe for flat feet is Motion Control (some high-stability shoes are also suitable). These shoes are designed for maximum support. They generally have firmer medial support technologies, flatter soles, and straighter shapes that are designed to control excessive foot motion. Some are designed to control both inward and outward motion. Heavier persons who need extra support and durability may also benefit from this highly-supportive shoe type.
The Normal/Neutral Arch
A normal arch (or neutral, medium, average arch) has a defined shape with a visible upward curve when a person is standing. The instep (the top of the foot, just above the arch) should appear to be a gradual slope without a pronounced bump. This is the most common arch and foot type.
This type of foot exhibits a normal, natural gait. The outside of the heel strikes the ground first. Then the foot rolls inward very slightly, coming in complete contact with the ground as it propels forward. The push-off occurs evenly across the ball-of-the-foot. The slight inward roll is natural and serves to absorb shock effectively.
The recommended type of shoe for athletes who have normal or medium arches is usually Stability. Stability shoes generally have some extra support on the medial side along with good midsole cushioning. The dual-density midsoles and medial posts provide sufficient support and control for the mild degree of overpronation which may occur. (Neutral cushioned shoes may also be suitable for light-framed runners with neutral gaits.)
The High Arch
A high arch has a very pronounced curve along the inner side of the foot. A large gap (ranging from 1/2 to 1 inch) can usually be seen between the ground and the foot. Also commonly associated with a high arch is a high instep (pronounced bump on the top of the midfoot area) and clenched toes.
A high-arched foot leans toward the outside during the entire gait cycle. The foot remains quite rigid, it doesn’t flex properly, and it doesn’t absorb shock very well. Extra pressure and stress are placed on the outer edge of the foot and the smaller toes.
A high-arched foot is usually best served by a Cushioned (or Neutral-Cushioned) shoe. These shoes are designed to have a softer midsole and more flexibility. These shoes do not have any added devices for stability or support. Their main focus is to provide a high level of balanced cushioning to encourage more a natural foot motion. Sometimes, when the degree of supination is severe, a Motion Control shoe may be used to control excessive outward motion.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to remember everything here, but hopefully this will give you a general idea of what to look for. At the very least, this may help you better understand what the salesman is talking about the next time you buy running shoes.