Breaking in - Arch Pain

After my wife got her VFFs and I read up a little on barefoot running, I decided I wanted a pair too.  We both have had issues w/ traditional running in the past, so I was excited about the possibility of injury free running.  I got mine in November, and did a short run to the end of the street and back on the very first day.  My wife had told me about a lot of posts here on beginners overdoing it, so I was determined to start slowly.

Over the course of a month or two I began to run one full block.. then two, and up to a full mile.  I was maybe 2 months in before I broke a mile.  To this point, I experienced a lot of muscle pain in my calves, and a little on the top of my right foot.  The calf pain was not at all like injury pain, just the pain of using muscles that weren't used to the demand you were putting on them.  Same w/ the top of my foot.  That dissipated after time.

Once I broke the one mile barrier, I started increasing my runs a little more aggressively.  I went from one mile to two miles pretty quickly.  At this stage, the only discomfort I recall is that my achiles tendons felt pretty sore.  I paid close attention, and kept on running, and it never got any worse.  I attributed it to them doing a job that they had never really done before in my life. 

Fast forward to a month ago.  At this point, I was doing runs up to 4 miles.  No more calf pain.  No more achiles pain.  I thought I'd successfully completed the break in stage, and was ready to go full force.  I even started running fully barefoot.  One day, though, I noticed that my left arch was really aching.  It was just after one of my 4 mile runs.  The pain was still there the next morning.  I cancelled a run or two.  For the first time since I started, I was feeling pain that felt more like actual injury pain, and not just workout pain.  This was just before a 1 week vacation in CA, so I decided to stop running until we got back.  During our trip, we did lots of walking and standing.  The pain in my left arch got so bad at times that I began to limp.  I made a point to stay off of my feet as much as I could, and stepped very lightly the rest of the time.

Thinking I'd overdone it, I vowed that I would not run again until I experienced a full week w/ no pain.  1 week after our vacation, I had my first full pain free day.  A week after that, I ran for the first time.  That was this monday (5 days ago). I ran a single mile.  Everything felt fine.  Wednesday, I ran a second time, again going only a mile.  Again, everything felt fine.  Thursday morning, I woke up, and my arch was hurting again.  I did not run today.  My arch is still hurting.  A search for "arch pain" on these forums didn't get me much.  I'm 3 chapters into Born to Run.  I'm hoping to find some information on what may be going on with me.  I'm really excited to be into barefoot running, and hope to continue, but I want to avoid injury.  Anyone have any words of advice or experience that could help me understand what's going on?


  • I don't think that Born To Run will be of any help there. It's a great book but not really a guide in any way.

    Does the pain feel like a tendon or ligament pain? I've gotten those on occasion, but they go away pretty quickly. Sounds to be you might have a mico-tear or similar. I'd definitely go longer than a week w/o pain before restarting the running. Maybe limit yourself to wearing your VFFs for walking only and stretch your foot...a lot. I'd wait several weeks than maybe starting back up, else you're likely to just re-injure whatever is trying to heal.

    I've been one of the lucky few w/o any major issues. My pains have basically been

    1. usual calf/achilles tenderness: 1-3 months
    2. overall foot discomfort/soreness : 3-6months
    3. aching when getting out of bed and first 10mins of being on feet, then more-or-less ok : 4-9months
    4. random, stabbing pains in arch (from tendon/ligament soreness; sad, but the name is entirely escaping me at the moment); goes away quickly
    5. now, at almost a year of using VFFs (started April 2009), with last 6 months with them being my only shoe to wear, fairly pain free
  • Thanks for the response, jcarneytx.  Yeah, I would say it feels like a tendon pain.  It's basically right behind the ball of my foot.  It feels like someone has somehow tightened a tendon or two tighter than they should be or something.

    I've certainly felt all of 1-3 that you mentioned. What I'm feeling now is different from #4 because it doesn't go away quickly at all.  My first bout lasted about 2 or 2-1/2 weeks.  I went a week w/o pain, did my 2 little 1 mile runs, and now the pain is back.  I'll take your advice and give it some more time.  I have, however, already been wearing my VFFs full time.  I work at home 3 days a week and in an office 2 days a week.  I'm a desk jockey, so most of my day is barefooted or in socks behind a desk anyway.
  • Then I would still recommend not running for a while and giving whatever is hurting a chance to fully heal. Give it a thorough massage and do some stretching daily and let it heal up before trying to run more.
  • Will do. It's frustrating, though.  I'm about 1/3 into Born to Run now, and all I want to do is just leave my house one morning and run until it gets dark :)
  • Patience young grasshopper. :P
  • haha maybe you should put the book down until you can run...haha
  • Or run while reading the book - that would slow you down...  ;)
  • Better yet.  I just went out and drank beer until I didn't want to run anymore  ;D

    I still thought about running all day.  Particularly after reading about Emil Zatopek.  It's going to be tough waiting a month or so, but I know I have to.  I'm in this for the long haul.
  • Maybe in the meantime you could do some sports that don't affect your feet so much like swimming or something. I guess that will keep you legs in shape and may not stress your archs.
  • Good advice, hinogi. I have been doing a little bit of walking in place of the running, fully barefoot in an attempt to toughen up my skin a bit.  I don't really have an opportunity to swim.  I do some chinups and dips, and a little bit of horse stance (aka captain's chair).
  • Well, I had to give up walking for a while too.  My left foot was just hurting too much.  After 2 weeks of no walking, I've had a day or two, now, of relatively pain free days.  I'm going to give it 3 weeks or so of pain free days, and they try to re-introduce some short walks.
  • hi forkmantis - please keep me updated as I believe I am suffereing something similar - I had transistioned fairly smoothly and was almost 5 months into my transition - I run purely in VFF KSO's and since the begining of Feb was upto around 20-25 miles per week. However almost 2 weeks ago I ran a 3 mile local race and decided to really try and go quick - I endeed up running a PB  of 20.08mins but since then it feels like someone has stuck a skewer in my  left arch. I took a few steps out the door the other day but immediately turned back . I decided that followin the analogy that wearing sneakers was like wearing a cast on ones foot - I thought why not rest the foot so the old nb 595's have been dusted down and in all honesty it has certainly helped . But I really miss running and was planning to go out tonight but maybe based on what some of you have said I should rest even more. Damm you helpful forumers!!!!
  • harrino,

    my intent is to document my whole process in this thread.  I have not felt any sharp pains since last Friday or so.  I'm still going barefoot or in my VFFs everywhere, but I'm only doing regular daily walking.  I still get some dull aches here and there, like when I lay in bed and the blankets press down on my feet, causing them to stretch. I feel that when I put the balls of my feet against the wall under my desk, also.  It doesn't really hurt, it just feels like I'm putting pressure on something that's healing.

    My hope, by continuing to spend as much time barefoot or in VFFs as possible during recovery, is that the bones and tendons in my feet have more of a chance to accommodate to minimalistic shoes, barefootedness, etc.  As long as I continue to see progress, I'm going to try to avoid more typical footwear.
  • Thanks Forkmantis - I  did end up going out - but I ran BF for the first time on the streets of Hoboken - I did around 1.5 miles and it was great no pain or soreness howevwer I am now off with the family to England for a week so may give my foot some extra rest as I will do little running while I am there but will really kick it in when I get back hopefully injury free though the summer!!
  • Although I'm a newbie to this forum, I am into my VFF for 5 months now.  Started slow...used mainly for kickboxing and short bursts of cardio.  I've had all the symptoms....seriously sore feet when I get out of bed, sore calves, top of the foot soreness.  I'm an runner and am trying to take it slow...up to about 5-7 km.  I feel great during the run but still do suffer a bit the next morning.  My question is this:  I want to increase my running KMs but know that I shouldn't be doing that in my VFFs.  Do any of you start your run with the VFFs for a certain distance and then switch to your regular runners for the remaining distance?  Am I defeating the purpose?  Or do some of you only do a couple runs/week in the VFFs and a few runs in your old runners?  Or do I just simply stick to my VFFs and be patient with the distance.    Appreciate the info.
  • If you've been running for five months in VFFs, and are still experiencing calf pain, you're doing too much, surprising as that may seem.*  You probably want to cut back your distance a bit and to increase the rest days.  I'm not so sure about the other question - other more experienced runners will hopefully chime in.

    *To give you a sense of my own break in, it took about a month before my calves stopped hurting, and I was a wimpy couch-potato who was running at most a mile a day, tops, by the end.  At the beginning, I was run-walking.  (Basically I was doing something like the Couch-to-5k, only it was just me running as far as legs and lungs would allow, then walking, until I'd been out for 15-20 minutes.)  The good news is that once you acclimate, it tends to stick.  I lost my wind after a winter indoors, but my calves are still strong.
  • i'm a little late to this discussion but there are two things i would lean towards in terms of what is causing this pain.  you are probably correct in thinking it is a tendon issue but that tendon issue is going to be caused my a muscular issue.  the most likely culprit is the flexor hallucis brevis and it's connecting tendons.  this is a muscle in the bottom of the foot that has two heads, the medial head that attaches to the inside of the foot at the base of the big toe, and the lateral head that attaches in between the big and second toes.  these two heads then run down the length of the foot making up part of the arch complex.  this tiny muscle is responsible for flexion of the big toe (curling it under)  the tension in the calves or more particular the posterior tibialis muscle can cause strain on this muscle because they share a connection at the third cuneiform bone. 

    Basically this means that the tightness you felt in the calves that went away did not go away completely.  while the muscles may have adapted to the stress of the new running form there was never a release on some of the connection points.  the posterior tib being much larger than the flexor brevis meant that the smaller muscle eventually had to give way and that caused strain on the connecting tendons in the distal connection point or the base of the big toe. 

    The best remedy is to try and stabilize the foot while taking load off of the muscles and connection points.  this typically means bracing or taping of some sort.  ice the bottom of the foot and strectch the calve complex with focus on the posterior tibialis muscle.  try to avoid stretching the foot as much, since it is the place that is over stretched, until the pain subsides. 
  • Thanks for the explanation, Jimmy.  Makes sense to me.  I googled "flexor hallucis brevis", and found this which helps me see what you're talking about:

    The most significant thing I'm getting from what you're saying is a sense that this is likely not a permanent injury, which is what I feared at first.  Would I be correct in that line of thinking? 

    The pain has been absent for close to 2 weeks now.  I've done a hair of barefoot walking, which used to agitate things, but it hasn't caused any such problems.  I'm going to give it another week or two, then start walking 3-4x a week.  Assuming all goes well there, I am ready to start running.  When I go back to running, I think I'm going to go completely barefoot, and let my skin be my guide, per the recent article on this site.  I think my skin will keep my runs short, thus giving me an artificial level of discipline to not push things too hard.  Seem reasonable?
  • that is actually a very good resource with it's views of the many layers of the under foot as i like to call it. 

    you are very correct in your thoughts about this being a temporary issue.  if treated properly it can heal in a matter of weeks.  the problem is most people take that long to figure out what is going on.  i have a personal trick that has worked wonders for my feet bot in times of injury and times of health.  i ice the bottom of my foot for twenty minutes, take it off the ice for about ten, then i roll it on a small tennis ball (this is actually a dog toy i get at petsmart).  i roll the ball from the base of my big toe to my heel then return to the second toe repeating the process through all five toes.  after that i do some rolling and pressing in the areas that have the most tension.  this is basically foam rolling or massage for the under foot.  the point i seem to get the most release from is pressing down just behind my big and second toes causing my foot to curl around the ball.  feels great and does a great job of loosening the foot. 

    I also like your plan for restarting and think you should be fine in your attempt to return to running.  i always recommend some barefoot time for my vff runners because it really takes the learning and adaptation to a new level. 
  • For almost 2 weeks now, I've been walking/running 1 mile a day, 3 days a week (  The pain in the left foot has mostly subsided, but is still there to a minor extent.  It seems to be getting slowly better.

    I've done all but one of these recent run/walks fully barefoot, and I end up feeling more discomfort from my skin than from the muscles/tendons.  I actually got blisters from the warm pavement last week, but it healed up over the weekend.  Monday I waited until later in the day, and had no problems.  The surprising thing was that the pavement really didn't feel all that hot while I was actually on it.  Just warm.

    I'm going to stick with just one mile for a week or two more, then try to slowly increase my distances.  I have to say that I do like the fully barefoot approach, because It's much easier not to talk myself into going farther than I should right now.
  • I  have had also had foot pains here and there running in my VFFs and what helped me and my chiropractor (she's an ART and myofacial release practitioner too) reccomended rolling out the bottom of my foot since I am barefooting a lot.  I also foam rolled my calves (more like self myofacial release than just plain 'rolling') quite a bit in the beginning.  I happen to have a TP massage ball kit, and I have the small tennis ball size one under my desk at work and I sit and roll my foot out when I am reading at my desk!  It helped me a LOT in the beginning.    I also heard that a lacross ball (since its a lot harder than a tennis ball) works well too. 
  • Hi y'all.

    I got my sore arch this fall, and stopped running after that. Took up skiing in the meantime. Anyway I've just discovered barefoot running and (even with lots of months of rest) my arch still feels slightly tight (it's not painful). Nonetheless I'm not taking any chances so I looked it up and found some exercises I've been doing this week, which strengthen the foot and its muscles. I do them twice a day, but you should do whatever feels comfortable to you.

    First exercise> stand on your toes (or ball of your front foot) as high as possible, and keep a balanced, tall posture. Take a small step every 1-2 second, not letting your feet down, and do something like 50 steps (25 each foot), 3 sets

    Second exercise> curl your toes. You can also try to 'walk' forward by curling your toes on the floor and dragging yourself forward. Do 50 reps, 25 each foot and 3 sets.

    Also a stretch> start in a kneeling position and place your toes flat on the floor while your foot is perpendicular to it. You can put your weight down on your heels or not for a deeper stretch.

    There are lots of other stretches, but I feel this stretches the best. You can also do that stretch in the sofa, so your toes gets pushed (comfortably) down, while your knees slide more forward - stretching really good!

    Suggest you search around for some more exercises and stretches - there are lots more out there. In my experience, rest never solves anything, you have to keep the blood flowing and the muscle strong. Also check out ice-bathing:

    Good luck!  :)

  • Just to follow up, I've been running regularly for 6-7 weeks now.  For the first 3 weeks, I ran 1 mile.  For the second 3 weeks, I've gone between 2 and 3.  I've made a concerted effort to do very short steps and keep a 180 bpm cadence, constantly counting "1 2 3" every second in my head.

    The pain in my left foot is not gone, but it is much less.  I've iced it on occasion, and I have tried keeping a tennis ball under my desk to roll my foot on, but my daughter keeps commandeering it for her own purposes.

    The pain now seems to have less to do with the arch, and is mostly just in the meaty area behind my toes.  It's low and fairly constant.  Running 2-3 miles doesn't seem to make it any worse.  For now, I'm going to keep running in the 2-3 mile range for a little longer and see if it gets any better or worse.  If it starts to get better, I'll keep pushing up the distance a little at a time.
  • I’ve owned orthofeet for over two months now. I’ve suffered from planters fasciitis and a broken foot. My feet were in constant pain until I bought these shoes. When I get home from work I don’t want to put on my slippers I just want to keep on my shoes. I’ve been recommending them to all my friends. I think they look great and clean up well.
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