Propping up the foot arch is a common approach used by physicians to help treat certain foot and ankle disorders. Arch support is also a design feature commonly touted by shoe manufacturers as beneficial. But we thought it would be helpful to discuss what arch support really means and whether it’s truly necessary—or even desired—in the foot.
Arch Support Definition
To understand our arch support philosophy, it’s important to understand the architectural principle of an arch. Webster’s Dictionary defines an arch as “A curved structure that supports the weight of material over an open space.” Put another way, an arch is any curved structure that is able to bear weight over an open space by providing support on either end of that open space. An arch becomes stronger when increasingly large forces are placed upon it, as the increased weight causes the arch’s components to “mesh” more effectively. If you examine the structure of the foot and the shape of the bones that make up the foot, you quickly realize that most of the weight-bearing bones in the foot are themselves shaped like arches.
The True Nature of “Arch Support”
Applying Webster’s Dictionary’s definition of an arch to the arches of the foot (including the medial longitudinal arch, or the arch that runs from the rear-foot, or heel bone, to the forefoot, or ball of the foot, and toes), we reason that such arches should be supported on either end of the foot and not in the middle of the arch, as it’s widely believed. Unfortunately, the type of support available to most consumers, whether it be over-the-counter (e.g., Dr. Scholl’s or other similar products) or via healthcare professionals (e.g., footbeds, arch supports, or orthotics), is the exact opposite of the type of “arch support” most people actually need. These products attempt to support or prop up the span of the arch, but they do not support the ends of the arch (i.e., the heel and the joints of the forefoot).
Conventional Arch Orthotics: A Band-Aid Solution
It’s true that many people who use conventional arch orthotics report a positive influence on their posture and an increase in comfort while walking, but this isn’t because they have a foot problem that’s corrected or cured by arch support. Instead it’s because nearly all footwear available to consumers today expects the wearer to function optimally while walking on a downhill ramp (an outcome of heel elevation, one of the most popular design features built into conventional footwear). In other words, the “arch support” prescribed for and used by the masses serves only as a Band-Aid solution that allows a person to continue wearing the sort of footwear that led to his or her foot problem in the first place.
The Arch-Destabilizing Effects of Conventional Footwear
Conventional footwear strips the principle foot arch of its inherent strength and stability by elevating the heel (one end of the foot arch) and pinching the toes together and positioning them above the ball of the foot at the other end of the arch (through tapering toe boxes and toe-spring, respectively). This unnatural foot and toe configuration destabilizes the medial longitudinal arch and leads to excessive pronation—a common cause of many foot ailments. Conventional arch orthotics are used, in part, to help prevent this overpronation, but it fails to address the underlying cause of the problem. Also, conventional arch support, by propping up the open space of the main foot arch, only serves to weaken the muscles that span this open space, which include the many layers of muscles within the foot and muscles in the lower leg that send tendons to their final insertion points on the toes.
Enabling Natural Arch Support
True, natural arch support involves positioning both ends of the foot arch—the calcaneus bone, or heel bone, and the forefoot, including the toes—level with each other and flat on the ground and restoring proper toe alignment, especially big toe alignment (using Correct Toes). The medial longitudinal arch is inherently strong and capable of supporting the body’s weight. In fact, the more weight the foot arch bears, the stronger it becomes.