The Runner’s Guide to Pronation, Overpronation & Supination

The Runner’s Guide to Pronation, Overpronation & Supination

Hang around any running club long enough and the talk will invariably turn to running shoes. Much of the banter will be about whether or not you need cushioned shoes or if custom orthotics are the way to go...

...But all the talk revolves around one term and that is pronation.

 

What is pronation?

 

Pronation refers to the natural movement of the foot rolling inwards when you walk or run. Your gait determines whether you have a neutral pronation or if you overpronate or underpronate (also known as supination).

If you overpronate or supinate it puts more stress on certain areas in the feet & leg, which increases your risk of injury.

Different types of shoes can help support your feet if you find that you are overpronating or supinating and it’s causing you pain.

Neutral pronation

 

Neutral pronation defines the natural inward roll of the foot when it strikes the ground. Pronation helps absorb the shock of landing on the ground when you walk or run and keeps the ankles and legs aligned. If your foot didn’t pronate, the shock of every step would impact the mechanisms of your lower legs.

During neutral/normal pronation, the arch of your foot will flatten as the heel lands on the ground. Your weight is then shifted to the outer side of the foot and then transfers to the big toe.

Your foot will then roll outward, the arch will lift and stiffen and all of the toes will push off and provide stability. With a neutral pronation, the sole of the foot will directly face backwards and is not tilted inward or outward.

Pronation also helps to stabilise the body on different types of ground by adjusting the way the foot lands on different terrain.

If you have neutral pronation you can generally run in any neutral running shoes which provide support and cushioning specifically designed for a neutral gait.

 

Overpronation

 

Overpronation occurs when the foot rolls excessively inward when you walk or run. Overpronation puts more weight on the inner side of the foot and also puts greater strain on the big toe and the second toe. This distribution of weight destabilizes the foot and in turn affects other biomechanics of the leg.

Because of the excessive twisting or rotating happening in the foot and ankle when you overpronate, the tibia also rotates more than it should. This causes knee pain and shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome).

One of the most successful ways of preventing overpronation is to wear stability running shoes. These motion control shoes offer a lot of support and structured cushioning.

Stability running shoes generally have firm cushioning along the inner side of the shoe where the foot arches to provide extra arch support. This cushioning helps to prevent the excessive inward rolling of the foot that occurs with overpronation.

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Supination (underpronation)

 

Supination, or underpronation, occurs when the foot rolls along the outer side of the foot when you walk or run. With neutral pronation, the foot naturally supinates as the heel lifts off the ground and the pressure is then rolled across the toes before the foot lifts.

However when supination occurs, more pressure is put on the outer, smaller toes instead of the big toe and the second toe.

People who supinate usually have higher arches that don’t flatten sufficiently when the heel strikes on the ground. It also correlates with certain running injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, ankle injuries, Achilles tendonitis and iliotibial band syndrome.

Runners with supination should choose a pair of neutral running shoes with lots of cushioning as supinators are particularly susceptible to shock-related injuries and commonly get stress fractures. Extra cushioning in the running shoes will help absorb some of the impact when running or walking.

How To Choose Running Shoes

Pro Tip: Whether you pronate, overpronate or supinate, making sure you run in the correct running shoes is important if you'd like to stay injury free. This is how to make sure you're in the right shoe...

Can't Listen now? Read the full transcript

Today’s question comes from Jeanne-Marie Grobelar on RUN with Coach Parry. With so many brands and styles of running shoes available, how on earth do you know which one is the right one for you?

Answer: Very importantly: shoes are expensive, so I always tell people go and spend the R200 or R300 that it costs you and make an appointment with a reputable fitness professional in your area – a physiotherapist, biomechanist, or biokineticist, even podiatrist – that have a lot of experience in the field of running, and make sure that you get a proper diagnosis of your foot mechanics.

It’s too easy for the lay person to watch you run and diagnose you as an over pronator because pronation is a very natural foot movement and it is our first line of shock absorption. So a lot of people get shoved into motion control shoes or stability shoes when they don’t really need them.

So step 1, spend that little bit of extra cash because over the years it’s going to save you a lot of money from the R1500 pair of shoes that you need to replace because they are not the right ones, the physio bills from the injuries from starting out in the wrong shoes.

So once you’d had the consultation and you know you need a lightweight neutral, or high mileage neutral, or mild stability, or motion control, you can then go in and ask the shop assistant for all their shoes that they carry in that range.

So don’t limit yourself to shoes that look the prettiest, or the shoes that you think look the nicest. Take all of them off the shelf, all the brands – whatever they stock in the shop that you’re at – take them all out and then run a good 300 – 400 meters in each pair of shoes.

You will know which ones are right for you, because they the ones that you’ll probably notice the least on your feet, they will feel the nicest and the will almost allow you to run the most naturally. And then the next step in that process is to make sure you buy a shoes that fits correctly.

The way that we do that is when the shoe is on your foot, we don’t want too much side to side movement. If there is too much side to side movement, ask the shop assistant if they stock a narrower fit – and by that I don’t mean a half size down.

Similarly, if the shoe is too snug, look for a shoe that is a slightly wider fit. Then you jam your foot right to the front of the shoe. You want to be able to slip your thumb in the back. It mustn’t be loose, but you should get your thumb between the heel and the back of the shoe.

You don’t want to just drop  it in, you’d need to wiggle it in a bit but that’s about the amount of space that you want. Similarly, if you push your foot all the way to the back of the shoe you want a half a thumb space between your big toe and the front of the shoe when you push it down.

How to determine your level of pronation

 

Figuring out whether you overpronate, supinate or have a neutral pronation is essential for choosing the right pair of running or walking shoes. There are four ways to self diagnose your level of pronation but if you are unsure you can get assessed at a speciality running store.

The wear test

The most common method of determining your level of pronation is the wear test. If you have a look at the soles of your old or current running shoes, you should be able to identify the way your foot is landing.

Overpronators will find more wear on the inner side of the foot and on the ball of your feet towards the big toe. Supinators will see more wear down on the outer side of the shoe and people with neutral pronation should see an even distribution of wear along the centre of the shoe.

The wet foot test 

You can analyze your footprint by doing the wet foot test. Wet your foot in some water and then step onto a piece of cardboard. You should be able to tell how your foot lands by the thickness level of the area in between the ball and the heel of the foot. If the line is very thin, it’s a sign of supination, whereas if it’s very thick, you are overpronating.

Shoe tilt

Take a pair of shoes that you wear regularly, they can be running shoes, trainers, or boots, and put them on a flat surface with the heels facing you. If you notice the heels tilt inward as a result of wear along the inner side of the shoe, you are likely an overpronator. If they tilt outwards due to wear along the outer edges of the shoe, you are more likely to be a supinator.

Professional assessment

If you go to a good quality running shoe store, or a specialist practitioner such as a podiatrist you can ask for a foot or assessment from an expert. Someone who's been trained to identify the different levels of pronation and recommend the best shoes for that type and level.

You can bring your old pair of running shoes with you so that they can analyze the wear themselves and make a more informed diagnosis. They will also usually ask you to walk or run so that they can see how you move for themselves so that they can do an extensive gait analysis.

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