Birkenstock is a popular shoe choice and for good reason. This brand has been around since 1774, and has been dedicated to producing the highest quality shoes possible. The key design feature of Birkenstock shoes includes the moldable cork footbed which does mold to your foot over time, giving eventually a custom experience. Even though Birkenstock is a favorite of so many people, there are some people that have a rough time while wearing these shoes.
A common question I get as a foot doctor is, "Why do my Birkenstocks hurt my arch?" The answer is 1. You more than likely have a low-arched foot or flat foot. and 2. Your break-in process wasn't long enough.
1. You didn't break in your Birkenstocks for long enough
The original footbed Birkenstocks is made from cork, which molds to your foot shape over time. This is a shoe that is custom to your foot type and its needs. Birkenstock is known for this feature. Most people when they are new to Birkenstocks and buy a new pair, they believe that they can wear them like their other shoes, with very little break-in period, or none at all. With Birkenstock, this is not advised, and will likely cause arch pain.
Due to the sole of a Birkenstock being very specific, like an over-the-counter orthotic with features like the toe bar, deep heal cup, and arch support, just jumping into a new pair of Birkenstocks without giving yourself long enough of a breaking period will cause arch pain and foot fatigue.
I learned this from personal experience. I bought my first pair of Birkenstocks in April 2023. The Arizona Birkenstock with original footbed. I wore them for the first time at a concert where we had to walk long distances to get to the venue as well as stand for the evening. Honestly, by the end of the evening, I was literally limping, and so uncomfortable. Once I did some research. I was sad that the Birkenstocks didn't work out initially the way I had hoped, because I'd heard so many amazing reviews of them. I didn't want to return them to the store but was willing to if they just weren't going to work for my foot type. What I learned from my searches was that due to my foot type (having a lower arch) and also not breaking them in properly, led to my foot pain. Once I took my time and gradually wore my Birkenstocks over the next week to two weeks. They became more comfortable to wear each time. Now they are one of my favorite pair of sandals due to them being so comfortable.
When people say Birkenstocks are comfortable, they are, but you have to break them in properly to do some, and if you have certain foot conditions or foot types like a lower arch or flat foot, the break-in process is longer. Keep this in mind.
The Correct Way To Break In Your Birkenstocks
To break in your Birkenstocks in a way that doesn't cause arch pain or discomfort, the break-in process should be gradual and slow. Above, I mentioned that the footbed of the original Birkenstocks are like an over-the-counter orthotic or insole. This is true, and because of this, Birkenstocks with the original footbed should be broken in as such, like an over-the-counter orthotic. Once you get your new pair of Birkenstocks, wear them for 2 hours on the first day. As each day goes on, increase your wear time by 1 hour. At the end of 7 days, you should be able to wear them for 8 hours.
How Long To Wear Your Birkenstocks
2. You have a lower to flat-arched foot
The 2nd, most common reason why your new Birkenstocks are causing arch pain, is because of your foot type. A person with a lower arch, to an outright flat foot will be more likely to have arch pain when wearing a new pair of Birkenstocks than someone with a normal-height arch.
Again, Birkenstocks are comfortable, but only after you have broken them in for long enough. The original cork footbed in Birkenstocks tends to cause people arch pain with a low arch to flat foot for several reasons:
a. The original footbed from Birkenstock was designed with the normal arch in mind.
Which, from a shoe design perspective, makes sense. There are more people with a normal height arch than people with low to no arch, so it makes sense, that if you are going to design a shoe, to target the largest demographic, and foot type, at least in the beginning.
b. Cork can be an unforgiving material to mold in the beginning
Cork takes some time to mold. Because the footbed on a Birkenstock is so specific, any variation in this, like a normal arch height on someone with a low arch, or no arch at all can be unforgiving. Again, following a gradual break in the process, the cork eventually molds under the weight and heat of your body, and the built-in arch height drops, creating a footbed custom for you.
For the low-arched or flat foot, there are two options. Option 1 is that you can break in your Birkenstocks using the above method if you would like to wear the original cork footbed. Option 2 is to buy your Birkenstock with the soft footbed. The soft footbed is much more flexible and forgiving during those first days to a week or two of wear, unlike the original cork footbed, and great for those whose foot type deviates from the standard Birkenstock footbed design.
Birkenstocks is a brand that has stood the test of time and has a loyal fanbase due to the quality of its construction, as well as its molded footbed feature. If you are having arch pain while wearing your Birkenstocks, a regimented break in schedule, especially if you have a low-arched foot can prevent pain while wearing these shoes. Also, don't be afraid to try the soft footbed options from Birkenstock as well if you would like to avoid the longer break-in process, or the risk of arch pain altogether. If your arch pain continues even if you have to stop wearing your Birkenstocks, schedule an appointment with your local foot doctor to look into other causes of your arch pain.
Schedule Your Appointment At Direct Podiatry Arizona
Do you have arch pain, and are looking for a foot doctor in the Phoenix area? My name is Dr. Sondema Tarr. I am a board-certified foot doctor, and owner of Direct Podiatry Arizona in Tempe, AZ. To view my available appointment times, click here.