The Beginner’s Guide To Arch Support For Runners

If you’ve ever heard the term arch support and wanted to know what it all about, then you have come to the right place.

Thanks to running’s high impact nature, there are several conditions and injuries that are common among runners.

Here’s the good news. According to conventional wisdom, arch support may improve the function and fit of running shoes. This, in turn, may reduce injury risk while improving running efficiency.

That’s why arch support is such a common term in the running world.

I’ll delve into what arch support means for runners, explaining different types of arches and sharing tips on when you might consider getting arch support.

Note—I’m not giving medical advice here. This article aims to educate, not prescribe any medical advice or recommendation. Consult a professional before making any decision.

Anatomy of The Foot

Before I dive into the importance of arch support for runners, it’s also key to understand the basic anatomy of the feet. More specifically, we’re going to take a look at the arch of the foot, explain how it works and why it’s key to both your comfort and mobility.

Your feet are a household of bones. One foot alone contains 28 bones. These bones are laid out in longitudinal and transverse arches, supported by different muscles and ligaments.

The arch is located along the bottom of the foot between the heel and the ball of the foot.

The shape of the arch allows it to function the same way as a spring, supporting body weight and absorbing the impact produced during movement.

Arches also help with propulsion—providing the energy to push your body from one step to the next. That’s why arches play a key role in standing, walking, running—or any other form of locomotion.

They also protect blood vessels and nerves from damage.

Lack of support in the arch may make your body more prone to many injuries and conditions, starting, of course, with the arch itself.

The Arches

Your foot has three arches: medial longitudinal, lateral longitudinal, and anterior transverse arch. These arches are shaped by the tarsal and metatarsal bones.

Let me explain each.

Arches are classified into three main types: flat, neutral, and high.

The Lateral Arch

The foot has two longitudinal arches—the medial and lateral arches. They’re formed between the proximal end of the metatarsals and the tarsal bones.

Consisting of the flatter of the two longitudinal arches, the lateral arch lies on the ground during the standing position. It consists of the calcaneus, the cuboid, and the fourth and fifth metatarsal.

Medial Arch

The higher of the two longitudinal arches, the medial arch consists of the calcaneus, navicular, talus, the first, second, and third metatarsals, and the three cuneiforms.

Transverse Arch

Your foot also has a series of transverse arches located in the coronal plane of the foot. The transverse arch is made by the metatarsal bases, the cuboid, and the three cuneiform bones.

The transverse arch is found in the forefoot, and it can be roughly divided into proximal and distal parts.

The Bones Of The Arch

There are a bunch of bones that contribute to the formation of the arch. These include

  • The navicular
  • Calcaneus
  • The medial three metatarsals up to their heads
  • Talus
  • The three cuneiforms
  • The sesamoid bones

What Is Arch Support

Now that you know a thing or two about basic foot anatomy, you might be wondering what arch support is all about and how does it help you become a better runner.

The term arch support is commonly used to refer to various types of shoe inserts that help support the arches of the foot. These can be devices ranging from a basic pad to custom-molded support.

Arch support can be provided in two ways.

Running shoes can be built with arch support. Usually, this means highly cushioned shoes for high arches, stability shoes for a neutral arch, and motion control for low arches.

In case the support provided within the shoe isn’t enough, inserts can be added for extra support. These can be either over-the-counter devices that you can buy at a running store or custom-made, personalized ones that get through a specialist, usually a podiatrist.

The Importance of Arch Support

If you’re a runner, then arch support is something you should consider.  Here are some of the reasons:

Protect Against Injury

All in all, your feet are not intended to walk on hard flat surfaces.

Without adequate support, you might increase the risk of pain or injury in your ankles, knees, hips, and back.

What’s more?

Some runners may make the mistake of choosing running shoes based on look and style over functionality.

Of course, don’t take my word for it. Research that analyzed the impact of cushioned insoles reported that they drastically reduce impact forces while running.

Extra Support

Arch support can be especially useful for runners who require specialized support.

This, in turn, can help soothe pain and prevent any extra damage. This is especially the case of runners with flat feet or a history of plantar fasciitis.

That’s one of the reasons arch supports are usually used to help with knee, hip, and back-related alignments problems.

Reduce Pain

This might be the most common reason runners choose to give arch support a try. And is also the reason that makes some of the most widely prescribed non-invasive treatment tools for people with foot conditions.

Research has shown that arch support may help soothe foot pain. Unfortunately, as a runner, foot pain is uncomfortable and can make any kind of weight-bearing difficult. And that sucks.

Distributed Pressure

Proper arch support may help evenly distribute this pressure by placing some of it into the arch of the feet instead of leaving all the pressure in the ball of the feet and heel.

How To Determine Arch Height

As I’ve mentioned earlier, arches vary from one person to person. Overall, arch types are broken down into three main classes: high, neutral, and low.

There are also many ways to determine your arch type. These include

The Wet Test

The easiest way to determine what type of arch you have is to do the wet paper towel test.

Here’s how

Simply get your feet wet, and step onto a dry surface, such as a paper towel or a sidewalk, and check the important left from your foot.

Here’s how to make sense of the imprint:

  • See the whole foot without any narrowing in the middle around the arch? Chances are you have a flat foot. This is what’s known as an overpronator in the running world.
  • See the balls of your foot and heels connected with a thin strip? You likely have a high arch. This is what’s known as an underpronator or supinator.
  • See the ball of your foot and heel as well as some of the middle part? You likely have a neutral, medium arch.

At A Store

The staff at a running store can also help you check your arch type. They can also recommend shoes that suit your foot type and training goals and give you some tips about running with your type of arch.

At a Specialist/Doctor

This is likely the most accurate way to check your arch height/type. You can simply ask for an arch test to determine what type of arches you have.

There are many professional ways that help you determine your arch type. Some of these include the navicular drop test, the medial longitudinal arch angle, and the arch height index.

But do you need one?

As far as I can tell, it depends on the person. Ask different experts, and you’ll get different answers. Some would say yes, while others will say no.

Should You Worry About Arch Support?

Here’s the truth. There are no conclusive answers since experts have different opinions. Some will recommend these for runners, while others would say no.

But, all in all, if you have flat to low arch, you might feel more comfortable running in footwear with arch support or using an orthotic.

Not sure whether this could help? Try first wearing an over-the-counter orthotic in a neutral shoe. This is a cheap and easy way to determine if arch support helps make your training more comfortable.

If using the extra support helps, then it makes sense for you to use it. If you notice no change at all, then don’t worry about arch supports, despite the ads claiming great benefits for runners with flat and/or low arches.

In the end, it’s your call to make, and it comes down to your comfort.