Flat feet (pes planus) are very common across a broad range of people. The strain placed on the foot and body due to the flatness of the feet can cause numerous foot problems. Unfortunately, the necessary use of shoes at an early age to protect our feet does not allow those with flat feet to develop the muscular and structural adjustment needed to function better. The result are feet that need added structural support to prevent tendon and ligament strain, as well as delay the progression of foot deformities that are related to flat feet, such as bunions and hammertoes. This can include special inserts in the shoes to provide that support. However, the first part of this support is the selection of the proper shoe for a flat foot type.

The choice of shoes can make a significant difference in the comfort of someone with flat feet. In general, a supportive shoe needs to provide just that- support. The following characteristics make a shoe more supportive for those with flat feet. Keep in mind that to best support a flat foot, the shoe itself should rest flat on the ground. Heels are inappropriate for both flat feet and high arches.

1) Stiff sole- the sole of the shoe needs to be stiff to resist foot collapse. Many shoes are highly flexible, and this does not help stabilize a flat foot. When examining a shoe for purchase, try to bend the sole of the shoe. If it bends towards the middle of the shoe, then the shoe is too flexible. If the sole bends near the toes or the ball of the foot, then the shoe will be more supportive. Also, try to twist the shoe. Grab the front and back of the shoe and try to twist and wring it like a drying towel. If the shoe twists easily, it is not supportive enough. If the shoe resists this, then it is supportive.

2) Wide sole- many shoes, especially athletic shoes and some flats and sandals, will have an hour glass shape to them in which the sole will narrow along the sides at the middle of the foot. No human generally has a foot this shape, especially those with flat feet, and support along the side of the foot will be lost if a shoe with this shape is worn. Look for a shoe that has a wider sole by looking at the bottom of the shoe. If it narrows in the middle, then it may not be suitable for someone with flat feet.

3) Stiff heel- the stiffness of the material at the back of the heel can also have a factor in how supportive the shoe is. The heel bone will rotate outward in various degrees when the foot flattens. A stiffer heel material in the shoe (the heel counter) will help to resist this, and improve the overall stability of the shoe.

Don’t be fooled by new trends or gimmicks when it comes to shoe construction. Fancy additions to the outer sole of the shoe that are marketed to provide increased support usually are mostly cosmetic, if barely useful. Unless something is integrated inside the shoe to contact the arch itself, the only indicator one needs to assess a shoe’s support in the sole is to test for stiffness. One can usually ignore most ‘new and improved’ claims. Likewise with unusual shoe shapes or constructions. Shoemakers have been engaged in their trade for centuries, and foot specialists have had a good idea how the foot functions biomechanically for sometime now. There is no breakthrough technology out there springing up overnight that surpasses traditional shoe construction, which itself has evolved on its own. The influx of non-traditional shoe construction is based on poor understanding of foot function or principles of shoe use meant only for those with specific deformities, and in some cases can create other problems, like heel or leg strain.

Lastly, one must always consider the basic principles of shoe fitting as well. Shoes should be fit based on measured length AND width, with the assistance of a shoe salesperson familiar in their products who can provide more detailed fitting as manufacturers may slightly differ from stated shoe sizes. A size ten foot may fit in a size ten in one specific shoe and a nine and one half in a different shoe/manufacturer. Shoe sizes are a good guideline to go by, but may not be exact due to different shoe shapes and construction. Above all, a shoe should feel immediately comfortable, as one should not have to ‘break in’ a shoe in order for it to be comfortable. Supportive shoes for flat feet can and should be comfortable as well, otherwise there is no point to wearing the shoe.