It can be a headache trying to find shoes for your flat feet. You won’t always find shoes made specifically for flat feet- at least ones you would be willing to wear out in public. This is why we’ve created this guide to help you through your purchase making decision. Especially since you won’t necessarily be able to rely on user reviews like we would typically recommend.
Instead, we’ll teach you how to appraise shoes that are not marketed for flat feet so that your feet can be both stylish and happy. The best news is that it’s not difficult at all- you just need a brief lesson in Shoes 101. And we are here to help!
Flat feet occur when the long arch of your foot remains permanently flat whether your foot is weight bearing or not (this is why it is sometimes referred to as fallen arches as well). There are actually two different types of flat feet or fallen arches. There is pathological flat foot and physiological flat foot.
Pathological flat foot, like its name implies, occurs when you have fallen arches with accompanying stiffness or other pain symptoms. Physiologic flat foot occurs when you have fallen arches but they do not necessarily cause disability. However, to avoid secondary injuries it should be preemptively treated. Our buyer’s guide will take you through both variations.
Why care about your flat feet? Flat feet are no laughing matter. They can lead to feet that easily feel tired, limiting your ability to work or enjoy time with your family. Fallen arches can also lead to pain, swelling, and impaired movements of your feet like being able to go up on your toes. These problems can also spread because they impact the way you walk and stand, ultimately affecting your legs and back. You never realize how much these little details about your feet can impact your life until you have them.
Although your flat feet might not be currently causing you pain, research has shown that fallen arches can put you at risk for foot injuries such as metatarsal stress fractures. These secondary injuries can put you off your feet for weeks and severely impair your quality of life. That is why it is important to still be proactive in these cases and keep your feet as healthy as possible. One of the best ways to do that is to wear the right shoes.
Shoe Buying Guide
So where do you start? Shoes (that are aesthetically pleasing) are rarely marketed for flat feet so you’ll need to read between the lines to find shoes that will work for your unique arches. As a general first step, you need to decide how severe your flat feet are. If you have flat feet and don’t have pain or any other symptoms (as is the case with physiologic flat foot), you’ll want to look at shoes that are marketed for stability.
If you have flat feet and have pain or other foot ailments (as in the case with pathologic flat foot), you’ll want to go with shoes that are designed for motion control. This is because physiological flat foot only requires the arch to be addressed. Stability shoes have a more appropriate arch for flat feet (see details below).
If you have pathological flat foot you’ll need your arch to be addressed, but it’s also important that your ankles are supported to prevent twisting your ankle. People with severe flat feet can become prone to twisted ankles because the ligaments in your foot are no longer in their proper position. However, when in doubt go for the motion control option because it never hurts to be overly cautious, but not being cautious enough could have very painful consequences.
Now we should note here that many shoes that are not athletic in nature (yes, we’re talking about tennis shoes) are not typically marketed as stability or motion control. But don’t worry, follow these next quick steps to evaluate other shoe options and you’ll be good to go anywhere you want!
So next you’ll want to look at the arch support. The arch of your foot is typically curved when it is not weight bearing, but flattens when you step on it. Because your feet are flat during both periods, you’ll want an arch support that can make up for it. In general, arches need to lie somewhere in the middle between cushiony and immovable. If the arch is too soft, it won’t have enough pressure to push your foot into an arched position when it is not weight bearing (yes, this sadly means that memory foam doesn’t make the cut).
If your arch support is too firm, it won’t allow your foot to flatten at all (so stay away from shoes made for plantar fasciitis, even if their marketing says they’re good for both). This is why most people with flat feet opt for athletic shoes because they tend to have a spring-like feel to their arches. This does not mean you are limited to athletic shoes, but when you know you’ll be on your feet for extend periods of time they are usually your best bet for comfort and safety. Other non-tennis shoe options that are good include clogs and support sandals.
You’ll also need to decide if your foot is considered wide. Many people with flat feet tend to need wide-option shoes because their fallen arches have led to spread out toes. This is not something to be self-conscious about. Once you have comfortable, perfect-fitting shoes no one will be able to tell that your feet are wider than what is considered “normal”. The main thing is not to force yourself into narrow shoes that will ultimately give you bunions. Go for comfort and you can never go wrong
Now, we have to be realistic and agree that there are some shoes you should never wear if you have flat feet unless you find a way to incorporate appropriate insoles into them (see our article on insoles for flat feet). This includes flat shoes that don’t have any arch support like ballet flats, flip flops, and even most work boots. These shoes often lack any arch support, let alone the level of arch support that your feet need. Save yourself the trouble and stick with shoes that will support and even encourage your active lifestyle (but remember that doesn’t mean you’re limited to tennis shoes that look like they belong in a nursing home). That is the quick and easy guide to buying shoes for flat feet.
Once you have your shoes, they next key step is knowing when to throw them out (or donate them if they’re in good shape) and go for a new pair. This may seem wasteful, but once you’ve worn down the arch, the shoe will no longer serve a purpose for you. Most experts say this occurs around 250-400 miles. Now, if you aren’t one of those people who tracks their steps walked each day and whatnot, you can approximate this by averaging out how far you walk each day and marking in your calendar when approximately you should hit your limit.
Stay closer to 250 miles, just to be safe. So why throw them out? Can’t you just buy a high-quality shoe and keep it longer? No, sadly it’s not an issue of quality. Your arch needs a movable arch that still is firm yet padded and comfortable. By these virtues along, your arch support will need to be made of material that will eventually break down.
If you really like a particular brand or pair of shoes, there is nothing stopping you from buying the exact same pair. In fact, if you find a shoe that really works for you, we encourage you to buy multiple pairs if your budget can tolerate it. This way you’ll never have to worry or sacrifice your feet just because you’re in the process of finding a new pair to wear.
Having flat feet can be irritating and time consuming. Don’t let it change how you live. Instead, follow this easy guide to find the shoes that will allow you to do what you want to do. Take control with this simple guide and don’t feel limited to typical athletic shoes. Your feet can be both stylish and comfortable. Now get out there and do some (educated) shopping!
1. Dunham, D. (2013). Best Shoes for Flat Feet. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/23491-shoes-flat-feet/
2. Queen, R. M., Mall, N. A., Nunley, J. A., & Chuckpaiwong, B. (2009). Differences in plantar loading between flat and normal feet during different athletic tasks. Gait and Posture, 29(4), 582-586. Retrieved from http://www.gaitposture.com/article/S0966-6362(08)00414-1/abstract
3. Staheli, L. T. (1999). Planovalgus foot deformity: Current status. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, 89(2), 94-99. Retrieved from http://www.japmaonline.org/doi/abs/10.7547/87507315-89-2-94
4. WebMD. (2016). What are fallen arches? Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/what-are-fallen-arches