Do you ever look at a cheetah and think, "Man, I hope that little guy doesn't hurt himself, running without the proper shoes." Of course you don't, because you're not insane. Cheetahs are meant to run, and already have everything in their little feet that they need to run quickly and efficiently. But frequently when people begin running, they set out on a quest to find the perfect running shoe for them, the one that will keep their knees safe and stave off plantar fasciitis- the ultimate shoe. Why is that? Human beings are naturally gifted runners, with early man often literally running after their prey until the animal died from exhaustion. There are even a few tribes in the world that still utilize this method.
Today, few people can outrun a house cat without making their knees ache or their heels hurt. Even very experienced runners have frequent trouble with their ligaments, tendons, and joints. How did the human race have survive in a time running was necessary to live, when most people can't run more than a mile without a professional trainer and specialized shoes?
Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run, has done a lot of research into the matter. You can read his whole argument here, or you can read my summary and get on with your life much sooner.
Basically, it comes down to money. Mild mannered citizens began running in the 70s for fun -tracking prey now unnecessary- and people wanted some specific running shoes so they wouldn't scuff up their nice work ones. Nike started by making shoes that were basically comfortable foot coverings, but people love technology. Soon the market was filled with highly advanced, heavily cushioned, feather light, arch-supporting future shoes. They sold themselves. And the longer we let our feet relax in these luxury recliners of shoes, the more they became like anyone who spends all day in a luxury recliner: weak and lazy.
I urge not just runners, but every person with feet to read McDougalls reports, and I have a few things to add as a bodyworker as well. I can tell when someone wears barefoot style shoes or spends a lot of time barefoot. They have muscles in their feet. I work barefoot and walk everyday (on concrete sidewalks) in flat, thin soled shoes. I do arch exercises. I never have foot pain. I feel the foot musculature of all sorts of people, and the one thing that people with muscular feet have in common is that they never mention them. Foot pain is rare for these people, yet rampant among the masses.
If there is one thing I want you to know, it's that weakness leads to pain. Weak back muscles lead to slumped shoulders leads to back and neck pain, etc. Most shoe companies would like you to believe that you need to spend $200 to have comfortable feet, but perhaps you could instead spend 10 minutes a day exercising, as you would for any other pain caused by weakness. Everyone's situation and every body is different, but hopefully you will consider increasing the function of your feet before you increase the padding in your shoes.