What Is Pronation of the Foot and Does it Matter?

Pronation most commonly refers to the movement of the foot during running

Running shoes and pronation
Running shoes and pronation. Photo (c) Terje Rakke / Getty Images

The generic definition of the term pronation describes a specific motion—rotating towards the prone position—in which the front surface of the body (the ventral surface) is facing downward. In terms of kinesiology, the word pronation is commonly used to describe the rotating the wrist and forearm so that the palm is turned in and downward. 

Pronation and Foot Strike

However, most people have heard the term pronation as it relates to a runner's foot strike.

In this way, pronation  describes a slight inward rolling motion the foot makes as it hits the ground during a normal walking or running stride. Pronation, is a buzz word that helps runners buy the perfect shoe and evaluate their stride. 

Pronation is a natural part of a walking or running stride. In order for the foot to move fluidly, and maintain balance and forward motion, the foot and the ankle rolls slightly inward to accommodate the ground surface and body mechanics. Everyone pronates to a certain degree while they walk and run.

Pronation becomes a hot topic in the running community, however, because it's believed that there is a point at which pronation, and inward rolling of the foot and ankle becomes excessive, which is believed to reduce efficiency and to lead to injury.

The industry refers to this excessive movement as over-pronation, which simply means that these runners roll inward to a greater degree than the average (or neutral) running stride.

Overpronation is more often seen in runners with flat feet.

The potential concern for runners who over-pronate is that the main arch of the foot flattens with each stride, and fails to support and absorb the impact of running, which may lead to excessive stress and pressure on the soft tissues of the foot and lower leg.

The excessive stress on these tissues over miles of running could set the runner-up for general foot aches and pains and fatigue, or chronic overuse injuries such as strains, sprains, plantar fasciitis, or tendonitis, shin splints and knee pain.

To correct excessive inward rolling, the shoe industry has an extensive array of shoes and inserts designed to help maintain a neutral running foot strike and the market for the perfect running shoe is huge. Wearing the proper footwear or using shoe inserts / insoles, or orthotics can help reduce over-pronation, but ultimately, finding shoes you are most comfortable wearing is the key to dealing with foot aches and pains.

Pronation is the most common foot motion, but another type of motion, supination, occurs when the foot rolls outward during the foot strike. This is far less common, but can also lead to overuse injuries in runners. Supination, as you may guess, is more common in runners with very high, rigid arches. The arch is so high and strong, that it doesn't give enough during the stride to allow the weight to be transferred forward over the big toe.

In supinators, all the weight of the foot strike, and all the stress of impact moves outward, to the outside of the foot and the smaller toes. Supinators have their own ways of correcting the impact, and the biggest recommendation for those with high arches is to use a well-cushioned shoe to absorb the shock and reduce the stress on the foot during running.

Learn more about different foot types and gait patterns: What Is the Best Shoe For Your Foot Type.

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