Do I Need Arch-Supports?

3 April 2020

“Hi, I had thought you only needed arch-supports for your feet if you have flat feet. I checked with the wet footprint test and found no sign of flat feet. But a friend recently said that he has heard of people with flat feet feeling better with arch-support. Should I get one? What is there to support if you already have an ‘ok’ arch in your feet? I don’t get it. Please advise.”

– Toh K.L.

Hi K.L,

Yes, unfortunately, it is a common misconception that only people with flat feet need arch-supports or foot orthotics. Before we clear up the misconception, let us first understand the two functions of foot orthotics – to re-align the foot and ankle bones, and to restore foot motion (foot biomechanics).


What Happens When We Walk Or Run?

When a foot is in motion, either walking or running, it goes through a sequence of motion. In an ideal situation, when your foot lands on the ground, it rolls inwards (pronates) on the big toe side with the arch flattening a little to absorb the shock of the foot-fall. As you begin your next step, your foot rolls back towards the centre (in a neutral position) to allow you to push off from your toes, more or less evenly across all the toes.

When someone has flat feet, they tend to roll inwards too much when their foot lands on the ground. This is known as over-pronation. As the foot over-pronates, it doesn’t roll back to the neutral position quickly enough as you begin to push off for your next step. This misaligned foot-fall affects the position of the lower leg, the knee, thigh and hip so that the force of your foot-fall is not absorbed in the best possible way. Some part like your lower back may bear more strain than it should, leading to back pain.

Other Rasons For Overpronation

However, there are other reasons why someone over-pronates or why they are not able to return to a neutral position for the push-off phase; wrong gait, improper footwear, muscle imbalances in the leg not helping the foot to return to neutral quickly enough, or even over-training where the muscles in the foot are exhausted and are unable to function properly. It could also be, for instance, a disorder of the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is the thick connective tissue (aponeurosis) which supports the arch on the bottom (plantar side) of the foot. It runs from the tuberosity of the calcaneus (heel bone) forward to the heads of the metatarsal bones (the bone between each toe and the bones of the mid-foot). A common prescription for plantar fasciitis is arch support.

Therefore, even though the wet footprint test showed no sign of flat feet, it does not necessarily indicate that you have normal foot motion or foot biomechanics. I would advise that you seek further assessment or do a gait analysis with a sports physician, physiotherapist or a podiatrist to determine if you need any foot orthotics fitted.