The Mighty Arch, Part 1: A Natural Cure for Plantar Fasciitis?

The Mighty Arch, Part 1: A Natural Cure for Plantar Fasciitis?

Be sure to check out the second part of this series:
The Mighty Arch, Part 2: Strengthen Your Arches to Treat and Prevent Foot Pain

I consider myself to be very lucky.

I began working at Softstar right around the time I developed a sharp and persistent pain the arch of my foot, later identified as plantar fasciitis. After learning that my father and many of my friends suffered from this same condition, I was told that all I could really do for treatment was to buy expensive orthotic arch support inserts that I would have to wear the rest of my life. This was the advice from podiatrists with decades of experience who claimed that feet need shoes with as much cushioning, support and controlled movement as possible. I tried these inserts and found that while they lessened the pain, it never really went away. I also learned that plantar fasciitis pain often only gets worse with time, and thicker and more expensive inserts were in my future.

Here's where the luck came in: I just happened to have a new job at one of the only companies in the country that makes barefoot shoes without any arch support whatsoever. I knew very little about the benefits of bare feet at the time and was just starting to pick up tidbits of information around the workshop. One night at home, I had an epiphany when I realized that my arches felt much better when I walked around barefoot. On a whim, I decided to start going barefoot at work (yes, this is common at the Softstar workshop—hence, more luck for me). I also realized that wearing Softstars had the same effect and bought my first pair. It took about a week for my pain to disappear completely and another three weeks for me to replace all my old shoes with Softstars. Two years later, I'm still pain free. And guess what: none of my Softstar coworkers suffer from plantar fasciitis.

plantar fasciitis fact

The explanation from the barefoot/minimalist shoe community is that arch supports act as a crutch that prevent you from flexing and strengthening your arch muscles properly. Therefore, arch supports used to treat plantar fasciitis are basically lessening pain by preventing you from using those muscles, with the result that they never heal and become weaker and more susceptible to further injury over time. By going barefoot or wearing shoes without arch support, I was able to strengthen my arch muscles and recover. That all made sense to me, but it was also just a bunch of rumors from people who had no medical expertise whatsoever... until now.

We recently made the acquaintance of Dr. Ray McClanahan in Portland, Oregon. Dr. McClanahan is a podiatrist who believes that most foot problems can be corrected by restoring natural foot function (i.e. barefoot movement). I was excited to learn that he had already been recommending Softstars to his patients, and even more excited to find that he wrote an article on this very subject of arch support, appropriately titled "Arch Support."

I'm now happy to share with you his original article, which we hope you'll find educational and insightful. If you ever wondered why Softstar's shoes don't use arch supports, here's your answer. And if you ever come across footwear that has arch supports and claims to be a "barefoot shoe," you'll know they're full of hogwash.

A little disclaimer first: I don't claim that going barefoot is a miracle cure for plantar fasciitis. My case was likely not as intense as people who have had it for years, and we all know that transitioning to barefoot shoes too quickly can have negative effects. We at Softstar are shoemakers, not doctors, so check with a medical professional before making such a change (hopefully one who supports natural foot function). —Elf Martin

Arch Support

By Ray McClanahan, D.P.M.

Since much of the current treatment for foot and ankle disorders is centered on supporting the arch, we thought it would be helpful to discuss what arch support really means and discuss whether it is necessary or desired in the active foot.

In order to understand the treatment of rendering an arch support, one must understand the architectural principle of an arch, and liken that principle to the multitude of arches that naturally occur in the human foot. When you study the structure of the foot and the shapes of the bones of the foot, you quickly realize that most of the weightbearing bones of the foot are indeed arches themselves by being shaped to have support ends at either end of the bone and an open space or boney arch in between the support ends of the bones.  For the purposes of the current discussion, we will concentrate on what might be considered one of the primary arches of the foot, sometimes called the medial (inside of the foot) longitudinal arch, the arch that spans between the rearfoot or heel bone and the forefoot or ball of the foot and toes.

The Mighty Arch, Part 1: A Natural Cure for Plantar Fasciitis?

Webster’s dictionary defines an arch as “a curved structure that supports the weight of material over an open space.”

Said another way, an arch is a structure that is able to support weight over an open space, by providing support on either end of that open space.

Applying this logical definition to the arches of the foot necessitates support on either end of the arch, and is exactly the opposite of the type of “arch support” that is available to consumers, either over the counter (i.e. Dr. Scholl’s or similar product), or from their healthcare professional (footbed, arch support, orthotic). These products attempt to “support” the arch, not by supporting the ends of the foot arch, but rather by lifting up under the open space of the foot arch. This does not make sense.

True support of the arches of the foot would suggest that the ends of the arches, on either end of the foot’s open space are the structures to be supported. This would mean that the heel and the forefoot joints (metatarsophalangeal joints and interphalangeal joints) are the structures that should be supported, and not the structures in between the ends of the arch.

As was mentioned above, current commercially available “arch supports” (which, by the way, are packaged under a number of names – arch support, footbed, orthotic, etc.) push up under the open space of the foot arch and not up under the ends. Many people feel a positive influence on their posture and walking comfort when wearing the current type of arch support, but this is not because they have a problem foot, but rather, because nearly all footwear that is available to today’s consumer expects the wearer to function well while walking on a ramp (the heel is elevated higher than the forefoot) with their toes bunched together (from tapering toeboxes) and the toes held above the supporting surface by footwear industry standard toespring, which is the elevation of the ends of the toes above the ball of the foot (the metatarsophalangeal joints).

But wait, didn’t we just confirm that in order for the arch of the foot to be supported, we need to support the ends, and not the middle, or open space?  Indeed we did, and as you can see from the description above, current footwear available to consumers is improperly positioning the support ends of the arch, by elevating the heel, which is one end of the arch, and unnaturally pinching the toes and holding them above the ball of the foot (metatarsophalangeal joints), which is the other end of the foot arch.

The Mighty Arch, Part 1: A Natural Cure for Plantar Fasciitis?

True support of the foot arch would then necessitate getting the heel bone (calcaneus) flat on the ground to provide support for the rearfoot support end, as well as getting the toes flat on the ground as well, so that the toes can help the ball of the foot to provide support for the other end of the foot arch in the forefoot.

Individuals who grow up barefoot, naturally have the support they need for both ends of their foot arch, and this is likely part of the reason why their foot arches function perfectly throughout their lifetimes, and their feet do not break down, unlike 80% of Americans who by nature of their habitual shoe wearing and compromised arches, will suffer some form of foot problem at some point in their lives.

This is not to suggest that we should all ditch our shoes and begin walking around barefoot, but it does suggest that our shoes are made improperly and are the cause of the arch problems and the associated deformities that many Americans experience.

Although there is scientific evidence that spending time barefoot is exactly what our weak arches need, the reason why it would not be a good idea for most Americans, is because much of our immediate environment is not compatible with our thin, moist skin and weak arches. We live in a world of cement and asphalt and multitudes of sharp materials, such as glass, that can become imbedded into our skin. Interestingly, the skin of the feet becomes thickened and resistant with prolonged exposure to hard objects such as gravel, cement and asphalt. Unfortunately, most Americans will never experience this hypertrophying and strengthening of the skin and arches of the foot, which is taken for granted in many developing countries, where all out sprinting over sharp rocks causes neither pain, nor injury.

What is suggested and recommended is that we make shoes that meet the need for protection of the skin of the feet, and that shoe manufacturers do not presuppose that the fashionable design features of heel elevation, tapering toeboxes, and toespring, are without significant deforming consequences.

In conclusion, the most likely reason for needing arch support is because today’s footwear removes the structural integrity of the foot arch by altering the support ends in favor of supporting the open end, which is no longer an arch support, but an open space support.

Pushing up in the open space of the foot has the significant long term consequence of weakening of the muscles that span the open space of the arch, which are called the intrinsic muscles of the foot, as well as the numerous muscles in your lower leg which send tendons into their final insertions, many of which are in the ends of the toes.

Thanks Dr. Ray!

You can see our follow-up post here: The Mighty Arch, Part 2: Strengthen Your Arches to Treat and Prevent Foot Pain

About Dr. Ray McClanahan: Dr. Ray's practice, Northwest Foot & Ankle in Portland, Oregon, allows him to care for those who find their highest joy when in motion.  In his 17 years as a podiatrist, he has learned that most foot problems can be corrected by restoring natural foot function.  He is also the inventor of Correct Toes, silicone toe spacers. His professional goal is to provide quality natural foot health services with an emphasis on sports medicine, preventative and conservative options as well as education on proper footwear.


  1. Bhakti
    Thanks for this article :-)
    I have a question about SoftStarShoes concerning plantar fasciitis: I too used to have plantar fasciitis (pains that I became aware of last year and then remembered had been there for at least 25 years of my life). I got rid of it by walking barefoot and in near-barefoot shoes, such as a pair of moccassins I sewed for myself. The thing that I found out about my plantar fasciitis was: if I wear squishy/bouncy/springy soles, my feet will begin to cramp, followed by the calves, then the neck, and the whole body will be sore. Springy soles will make the plantar fasciitis come back in no time.
    When I made myself a pair of huaraches from Vikram soles (2mm), I realised that those too were too springy for my feet. The pain came back after just a few hundred yards. (I read somewhere that if you wear squishy soles you will involuntarily make heavier steps because the foot is seeking stability that the squishy soles can't provide.)
    So my point is: Most SoftStars seem to have these rather springy Vikram soles, is that true? Or do you have non-springy options? Leather comes to mind, but I would need something a bit more water resistant. Any other options?
    Thanks in advance,
    1. Elf Martin
      Hi Bhakti. We do have a tough leather sole option for durable outdoor use and it’s naturally water resistant. You can read about it here:
      It’s slightly thicker than our 2mm Vibram street sole, though it doesn’t seem to be as dense. Do you know if the 2mm sole you tried was the same as the 2mm Street sole we use on our RunAmocs. It looks like our 2mm Street is both our thinnest and least springy.
  2. Bhakti
    Thanks for the info!
    I didn't know the leather soles were water resistant. And the 2mm Vibram sole on the RunAmocs looks less springy than the one I used, though that's hard to tell from a photo. And ordering a pair just to try would be expensive for someone living in Germany ;-) Maybe I will in the future, however.
    Anyway, keep up the creative work!
  3. Melissa
    I can support Dr McClanahan's claims by saying that I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis in 2010 . After reading "Born to Run", I decided to give barefoot technology a try. I have a pair of soft stars, Vibram 5 Fingers, and after wearing them for 2 years, have zero foot pain. I also try to stay barefoot as much as I can!!
    1. Elf Martin
      Glad to hear it, Melissa! I read Born to Run after my experience, but it was definitely still a big eye-opener.
  4. Neck pain
    What a nice article. I found much great information about plantar fasciitis. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.
  5. Andrea Boyette
    I have a serious case of plantar fasciitis in the arch of my right foot and it is just not healing. I do were professional orthodics because my knees starting hurting when I ran. Problems solved (13 years ago). However, I play a ton of tennis and I "sprint" after everything. That's how this whole thing started. My question is, is there a shoe that I can wear while playing tennis (barefoot tennis is not an option for me)?
    1. Elf Martin
      Hi Andrea. Sorry to hear about your plantar fasciitis pain. We have heard of people playing tennis in our Dash RunAmocs. They're typically a good all-athletic shoe, although I should warn you that we're not experts on the needs for tennis shoes.
  6. David Conway
    When orthotics stopped working, I realized I had to simulate the effect of my pain-free Vibram shoes while wearing dress shoes and running shoes. I loosened my running shoes one eyelet so that my heal could move freely when I stepped, and I started running on the front of my feet. Pain gone! After a year, I gradually shifted to a flat footed stride, keeping most of the weight on the front of my feet.
    1. Elf Martin
      That's great, David! Thanks for sharing.
  7. Kelsey
    I have been working on a boat for the last 9 monthe now and have been enjoying the life of being barefoot 24/7 very much... however, recently jumping rope barefoot seems to have been too much pressure for my arches and now it doesn't seem like any thing helps eas the pain EXCEPT for wearing shoes with "arch" support. When I go barefoot now, there is sharp pain with every step. Any ideas on how this could heal naturally?
    1. Elf Martin
      Hi Kelsey. Sorry to hear about your arch injury! Unfortunately, we're not qualified to give medical advice, and it sounds like your injury is very different from mine. You may need to seek an expert's advice for this one. We're always happy to recommend Dr. McClanahan. You can find more of his articles at, and he also gives phone and email consultations through that site. Good luck!
  8. Trish Moore
    I have severe plantar fasciitis in my right foot and moderate in my left. I am a country girl and went barefoot most of my life and still do every chance I get. My pain immediately becomes unbearable now, when I do. I have hardwood floors and tile bathrooms. I have found that I cannot stand barefoot long enough to get ready to go out and still be able to actually go for the pain caused by showering, etc. barefoot. Do you think these shoes would help me? I have tried everything else. Ps. My pain is in my heels
    1. Elf Martin
      Hi Trish. So sorry to hear about your pain. It sounds like it came from a different nature than mine did, as going barefoot immediately cleared mine up. As I mentioned in the post, more severe cases may require different treatment than my experience. You could try some of the arch-strengthening videos in part 2 of this post and see if them help, but keep in mind that we're not qualified to give medical advice. You may need to consult a medical professional. The end of part 2 of this article has tips on finding podiatrists who support treating foot pain by restoring natural foot function rather than prescribing conventional orthotics. Good luck!
  9. Jessie
    I've just been diagnosed with peripheral neuropy. No I'm not diabetic. No reason for it. Will these shoes help the burning or does barefoot help? The only thing dr reccommended is orthotics!!!!!
  10. Elf Martin
    Hi Jessie. I'm sorry to hear about your foot pain, and I'm afraid it's out of our area of expertise. You may want to consider the opinion of a doctor who supports treating foot problems by restoring natural movement rather than orthotics. Part 2 of this post ends with suggestions for finding a podiatrist with that view. Good luck!
  11. Justin
    I was diagnosed with this a few years back. Too much running in poorly fitting shoes did me in. I definitely learned my lesson and always wear insoles now. Great article!
  12. Johny nguyen
    Frozen Water Bottle : Roll the bottle along your arch for 10 minutes. Stretching the tendon afterwards is a bad idea; it is cold and ideally tight after the frozen water bottle technique is done, so just sit back and relax.
  13. Caitlin Leong
    I've been running with my vibrams for about a year now. I've developed plantar fasciitis, what can I do now? How do I treat it?
  14. Elf Martin
    Hi Caitlin. So sorry to hear about your plantar fasciitis. It sounds like yours comes from a different source than mine. I'm sorry to say that we're not qualified to give medical advice. You can try the tips listed in part 2 of this article, but you may want to seek medical attention. We recommend finding a doc who supports natural foot function, and you can find a list of resources in part 2 of this article, as well. Good luck!
  15. Carri Bugbee
    I think the most important thing to point out is that there are VASTLY different reasons why people get plantar fasciitis (or Plantar Fasciosis as some are calling it now), so there is no one, correct method for dealing with the pain or healing from the injury.

    When I first got PF over 20 years ago I lived in Hawaii, so I was going barefoot or wearing flip-flops/sandals all the time. I believe this actually caused my PF (and if you read up on the topic, you’ll find this is the case for many people). I know from many years of trial and error (and employing fairly rigorous A/B testing in some cases) that wearing flat, hard shoes does not and will not make my PF better. Note: I also have narrow feet so I never wear shoes that squish my toes—most shoes run too wide for me.

    Indeed, using good arch supports that help distribute weight more evenly over the sole of my foot is the only thing that helps me live somewhat pain free. And by "good" I don't mean the expensive ones made for me by the doctor—those are actually too hard.

    I’m sure Soft Star shoes will work for some people, but comparing a rigid arch structure to a foot that is springy and bendable and has many working parts (in defense of the explanation of why the shoes are ideal) isn't scientific or an apt metaphor.
  16. Elf Jana
    Hi Carrie! Thank you for addressing a very important aspect of foot health and recovery, namely, that each person's path to health is different, and what works wonders for many may be a poor fit for some.

    You are spot-on when you state that, in general, a dynamic foot arch is a different, more complex animal than a static work of architecture. A good minimal shoe is not only zero-drop (flat), but also possess other key characteristics such as flexibility and secure attachment to the foot. Rather than being hard, our flexible soling allows feet to feel and conform to surfaces, a key feature that gradually leads to increased foot strength and resiliency for many. Our shoes are also completely attached to the foot, negating the need for the constant "toe clenching" required to keep standard flip-flops on the foot. You might enjoy reading our blog post,"We're Staging a Flip-Flop Intervention", which goes into greater detail on this subject.

    In the end, only you can determine what is best for your health and well-being, and we're so glad to hear that you've found a measure of relief from PF symptoms. May your road to health be as comfortable and pain-free as possible!
  17. Lia
    Hi, I've had PF for almost 10 years now and have been wearing orthotics for 5. My orthotics actually have helped the pain from my PF go away but I want to be able to not wear orthotics at some point in my life. The problem is, I have almost entirely flat feet. Would you recommend the barefoot treatment? Thanks!
  18. Elf Martin
    Hi Lia. Here at Soft Star, we always encourage people to try correcting foot problems by restoring natural movement (i.e., barefoot treatment). Having said that, keep in mind that we're not doctors and are not qualified to diagnose foot problems or prescribe treatment. The barefoot treatment worked wonders for me, but I make no guarantees that others will have the same results. You may need to consult a medical professional to find out what is best in your case... preferably someone who is familiar with the idea of natural foot treatment. Dr. Ray McClanahan, mentioned above, does phone and email consultations, and part 2 of this article gives more resources for finding pro-barefoot doctors. Good luck!
  19. Plantar fasciitis shoes
    Plantar fasciitis shoes
    I always agree with Dr. Ray. Thank you for posting this article.

    William Prowse IV
  20. Shoe Insoles
    Thanks for providing information courtesy of professional medical practitioner, many people doubt the value of orthotics for various reasons, good to know that the science provides undeniable evidence about how important they are.
  21. Sally
    I'm looking for shoes that have cushioned soles but retain an empty space under the arch. I have shoes with completely flat bottoms (no arch support), but after a few weeks of wear, the weight of my heel and ball pressing down into the cushion squishes it down so my arch ends up pressing against the unsquished middle part of the shoe, which is painful. I'm looking for a shoe that has the opposite shape to most conventional shoes, with more padding in the ball and heel and an empty space under the arch. So in profile the shoe sole looks like this:

    heel arch ball

    Do you have plans to make anything like that? I've tried shoes with no cushioning and full barefoot, which feel great on my arches, but then the balls of my feet end up feeling bruised because I walk on concrete all day.
    1. Elf Martin
      Hi Sally. Sorry, but we don't use cushioned innersoles for any of our shoes (other than a couple millimeters of EVA foam). You may want to try the Correct Toes silicone toe spacers we sell on our site. I had horrible pain in the ball of my foot when I'd walk on concrete and I first thought it was because the surface was so hard. It turns out it was the result of the nerves in my toes being pinched together after years of wearing shoes with tapered toe boxes (even though my toes didn't look very pinched). Someone recommended Correct Toes for me and the pain disappeared almost immediately after putting them on. After wearing them for a few months I can now walk on concrete without them for quite a long time before I feel any discomfort. I can't guarantee it will be the same for you, but it sounds like you're experiencing something similar.
  22. Sally
    Never mind, I've managed to rig up my own shoes from some old insoles, tape and laces. They're not super cushioned, but they'll do, and the empty space under the arch is lovely.

    My toes don't touch unless I'm wearing shoes, so toe spacers tend to fall out if I try to wear them, as the spacer between the big and second toes is a lot smaller than the gap I have there. Thanks anyway.
  23. Gail
    Are your shoes close to the Nike barefoot type running shoe ? I think I may have planter fasciitis but haven't seen a doctor for it yet . I noticed when I wear shoes with arch support it hurts more but when I wear my Nike barefoot tennis shoes it feels better. Let me know your thoughts thanks
    1. Elf Martin
      Hi Gail. Our shoes are much more minimal than the Nike barefoot-type running shoes, meaning that our shoes have no arch support whatsoever, our soles are thinner and we don't use elevated heels. This makes our shoes more flexible and allows much more barefoot-like movement.
  24. Kimberly Phoenix
    Kimberly Phoenix
    Is there stores that carry your shoes or online only it's expensive to order online without trying
    1. Elf Martin
      Hi Kimberly. Sorry, but our business is not a wholesale model, so we only sell directly from our website. The only place you can buy our shoes in person is at our workshop in Oregon.
  25. rolfen
    I hope that comments are not moderated and if they are, that the moderation would be impartial.
    I have been wearing different minimal shoes for about 2 or 3 months now. I am interested in Softstar shoes but it's hard to get them here in the UK.
    Anyway I have noticed that I have plantar fasciitis symptoms after exerting my feet in thin-soled, flat shoes. At first, I thought that it was just an ill fitting heel, but after having these symptoms with three different pair of shoes, I think the relation becomes clearer.
    I don't know why. I still like to wear flatter shoes with flexible soles and wide toe boxes. This is just what happened with me.
  26. Carla poole
    Helpful. I deliver mail and it started with this situation which gravitated to a bunion or vise versa which now has me with nerve problem between the big toe and second toe. I'm starting to use some of the techniques in your articles. I have an appointment on 8/8/17 and I'm surely going to discuss this theory.
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