Are You Running With A High or Low Arch?
Determining if you have a high or a low arch has been a long debated topic in foot biomechanical history, but there is anecdotal and scientific evidence that peoples arch types affect their lower limb biomechanics1 and hence can cause considerable pain. On top of this there is evidence suggesting that the type of shoe you wear will also affect these mechanics (and hence pain).2
The Arch Height Index
A simple way of categorising people is using the arch height index (AHI). Although this is not a completely dependable figure it can be an indicator. See below for a diagram and description of how to work it out. It is recommended that you consult your biomechanical health care practitioner (chiropractor, podiatrist, physiotherapist) to get a thorough opinion on your foot posture before you make any conclusions based on this article. The aim of showing you the AHI is to help give you an idea of your foot posture in relation to the recommendations/suggestions made here.
To measure AHI, find the foot length (FL) in centimetres, then find the mid-way point of your foot and measure vertically up to the top of the foot (the arch height or AH). Then divide the AH value by the length of the foot from your heel to the ball of the first toe. Several studies suggest that an AHI of 0.356 and above is an indicator of a high arch, and an AHI of 0.275 indicates a low arch.1
So, which group do you fit into!? High (>0.356) or Low (<0.275) arched?
It is suggested that people with a high-arched foot (or a supinator, the opposite to flat-footed) have less flexibility in their feet and hence their whole lower limb. This can contribute to shin splints and plantar fasciitis. As a result it makes sense to reduce the stress in the loading of the lower limb. This means cushioning the landing and load on the front of the foot during running, as well as keeping all joints and muscles flexible from the foot all the way up to the lower back.2
The suggestions based on this are:
To wear cushion trainer shoes, NOT motion controlled shoes (if you need advice on this consult your chiropractor/podiatrist/physiotherapist).
To keep the lower limb muscles well stretched and flexible. (i.e. if you can’t touch your toes with your knees straight then the back of the legs are tight. If you can’t grab your ankle with your hand the front of your legs are tight.) (See high arched runner stretches/exercises.)
Keep the muscles relaxed and the joints moving effectively. (A great way to do this is getting chiropractic adjustments/treatment regularly.)
Also see our post on stretches and exercises for high-arched runners.
Contrary to the high arched foot, people who have a low arch (a pronator, i.e. a flat footed person) tend to be more flexible through their foot. As a result, these people tend to need more support in their arch and keeping muscles strong in their lower limb is important.
So the suggestions are:
To wear motion controlled shoes, NOT cushion trainer shoes (ask the chiropractor or your podiatrist if you are unsure about what types of shoes these are.)
To make sure you are strengthening the muscles around each joint with balance/ coordination exercises (using a wobble board/balance board, or even just balancing on solid ground can be hard enough).
Also see our post on stretches and exercises for low-arched runners.
Remember, this advice is general and it is important to seek a health professional's advice when starting a new exercise regime to ensure it is appropriate for your individual situation.
Here at Hilton Chiropractic, our very own Dr Gareth Calvert has a diploma in sports chiropractic and loves working at international sporting events. This gives him great experience in sport-related issues. If you want to find out more about your arches and feet, he would be happy to discuss the right shoes for you and the exercises and stretches shown in this article.
Dr Gareth Calvert
- Williams DS, McClay IS. Measurements used to characterize the foot and the medial longitudinal arch: reliability and validity. JOSPT. 2000; 80 (9): 864–71.
- Butler, R.J., Hamill J., Davis I. Effect of footwear on high and low arched runners’ mechanics during a prolonged run. Gait & Posture. 2007; 26 (2): 219–25.
- Butler RJ, Hillstrom H, Song J, Richards C, Davis IS. The Arch Height Index Measurement System: establishment of reliability and normative values. JAPMA. 2008; 98 (2): 102-6.
- Williams DS, McClay IS, Hamill J, Buchanan TS. Lower extremity kinematic and kinetic differences in runners with high and low arches. JAB. 2001 ;17 (2):153–63.