Pronation (an inward rolling movement of the foot) is a natural part of standing, walking, and running. As you walk or run, the outside of your heel hits the ground and your foot rolls inward by about 15 percent. This helps absorb shock as the foot makes complete contact with the ground.
When you run, this subtle movement also allows you to push off evenly from the front of your foot and gives you maximum power for your efforts.
But for every mile you run, foot pronation increases, which can lead to injury, especially for marathon or long distance runners.
Depending on the arch of your foot, your foot may not be able to roll properly, causing either supination (insufficient inward roll of the foot) or overpronation.
Do You Overpronate or Supinate?
To tell the difference, check out the bottom of your shoes. Pronation causes wear on the instep portion of the shoes, while supination will wear out the outside of the shoes.
Or you can try the wet foot test: dip your feet in water and walk on a dry concrete surface, like your garage floor or patio. If you are supinating, the heel and front of the foot may not be connected. If you have overpronation, the print won’t narrow much in the middle.
Supination: What to Do About It
Supination, or underpronation, puts extra stress on the foot by transferring weight to the outside of the foot and smaller toes, instead of the big toe.
Runners with high arches or tight Achilles tendons often suffer from supination. Over a long enough time, this can lead to conditions such as plantar faciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and iliotibial band syndrome.
The Right Stretches
To ease discomfort, try stretching your calf by pushing your foot at a 45-degree angle next to a wall. You can also try sitting in a chair, crossing one leg over the other, and gently pulling back your toes toward the top of your foot.
The Right Shoes
Runners with supination should replace worn shoes often. When looking for shoes, choose ones with more flexibility to allow the foot to roll naturally. Lightweight trainers and shoes with curved heels and flexibility on the inside of the foot are best. These allow your shoe to flex so your foot can stretch flat as it hits the pavement.
Also, extra cushioning inside your shoes can help to correct supination of your foot.
Overpronation: What to Do About It
If your foot rolls inward more than the typical 15 percent, this is called overpronation. This is common in people with flat feet, or little to no arch to their feet.
During overpronation, your foot pushes off from just the first two toes. This means you lose a significant amount of power because you’re not using the full front of your foot. Overpronation also makes it difficult to absorb shock and stabilize the body, and puts extra stress on your ankles. It leaves the foot open to tight muscles as well, and the lack of shock absorption can be harder on your ankles, knees, and hips.
The Right Stretches
Stretching can help loosen up the affected ligaments and muscles. These include one-legged squats and rolling your foot over a tennis or golf ball. One helpful stretch involves lying on your back with one leg hoisted straight up in the air. Then loop a towel around the front of your foot and gently pull down while you count to 10.
Walking on an uneven surface, such as a folded-over yoga mat, can also help stretch out the muscles in your foot.
The Right Shoes
The proper footwear can go a long ways toward alleviating these problems. Orthotic inserts are often used to lessen the tendency toward overpronation, as well as to make running more comfortable and enjoyable. Runners with overpronation could also benefit from motion-controlling shoes, which help control pronation with better internal support.
Some experts say running barefoot — and not with the “barefoot” shoes — allows for the least amount of pronation, so overpronators may benefit from running without shoes. (Of course, not in areas with high amounts of broken glass or gravel on the ground.)
Runners who overpronate should lace their running shoes using all of the eyelets, and ensure that their shoes are tight.