What is Pronation and Overpronation?

Definition of Pronation and Overpronation for Walking and Running

Pronation - Neutral - Supination
Pronation - Neutral - Supination. By Ducky2315 (Own work) [ CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Pronation is a natural motion of your foot during walking and running. Walkers and runners will often hear the terms pronation, overpronation, and underpronation, especially when discussing your gait and whether you should use motion control shoes. Learn more about what these terms mean.

What is Pronation?

Pronation refers to the natural side-to-side movement of the foot as you walk or run. It is also known as eversion.

The foot rolls a bit inward with each step.

From the time your heel strikes the ground, your arch begins to flatten and cushion the shock. Your weight shifts to the outside of your foot and then back to the big toe. If you have a correct gait your foot should begin to roll outward with the toe-off. The arch rises and stiffens to provide stability as the foot rolls upward and outward. This is normal pronation. All of the toes aid in push-off in normal pronation but the big toe and second toe do more of the work while the others stabilize.

The sole of the foot is facing the rear of your body in pronation. The muscles active during pronation are the anterior tibialis, extensor digitorium longus, and the extensor hallicus longus, all of which are supinators of the foot.

Problems with Overpronation

For some people, the ankle rolls too far downward and inward with each step, which is known as overpronation.

This is believed to contribute to the risk of injury and motion control shoes, insoles, and orthotics are designed to correct your foot motion for overpronation. In overpronation, the big toe and second toe do all of the push off and this leads to strain on them and instability in the foot.

The excessive rotation of the foot in overpronation leads to more rotation of the tibia in the lower leg, with the result being a greater incidence of shin splints (also called medial tibial stress syndrome) and knee pain.

It places more stress on the ligaments and tendons of the foot that attach to the heel, contributing to heel pain problems.

Determining whether you are an overpronator is the key to selecting the right walking and running shoes. You can do a little self-diagnosis looking at your shoe wear pattern, then get assessed at a good-quality running shoe store. Overpronators may benefit from motion control shoes to help correct their gait so they have normal neutral pronation.

  • Motion control shoes are built to correct for overpronation. They have increased medial support and stiffer construction to guide the foot into a proper amount of pronation.
  • Custom orthotics can provide motion control. These are prescribed by a podiatrist and individually designed to meet the specific need of each foot. If you have a severe problem with overpronation, you may want to see a podiatrist.
  • Some researchers are taking a different route and think barefoot running may be an answer for overpronation. Some studies show you pronate less when running barefoot.

Problems with Underpronation (Supination)

Supination is a rolling motion to the outside edge of the foot during a step. The foot naturally supinates during the toe-off stage as the heel first lifts off the ground until the end of the step.

This provides more leverage and to help roll off the toes.

Too much supination places extra stress on the foot. The big toe and second toe aren't used in a supinated toe-off, which leaves all of the work to the outer edge of the foot and smaller toes. This can result in ankle injury, iliotibial band syndrome of the knee, Achilles tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis.

Supinators do well with neutral shoes. If you supinate, you do not need motion control shoes because you don't need medial stability. Instead, flexible shoes will allow you a better range of motion and you may benefit from shoes or insoles that have more cushioning.

The Bottom Line on Pronation and Overpronation

Your walking and running gait may have too much or too little side-to-side rotation during the phases of your stride. You can often get a quick assessment at a running shoe store to see whether or not you overpronate or supinate.

Sources:

Donatelli, Robert. "Normal Biomechanics of the Foot and Ankle." The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. November, 1985.

Heel Pain. American Podiatric Medical Association. http://www.apma.org/Learn/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=985.

How to "Read" Your Footprint. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/how-to/foot-health/Pages/How-to-Read-Your-Footprint.aspx

Russell, RM and Simmons, S "The Effects of Barefoot Running on Overpronation in Runners," International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings: 2016 Vol. 8: Iss. 4 , Article 42.

Tweed JL, Campbell JA, Avil SJ. Biomechanical Risk Factors in the Development of Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome in Distance Runners. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association: November 2008, Vol. 98, No. 6, pp. 436-444.

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