Overpronation is a term which is used more and more frequently by runners and exercisers these days, but what is overpronation and is it bad?
Overpronation is excessive pronation of the feet when walking and running, and it can place people at risk of developing foot problems. Knowing the degree to which you pronate is important in order to select the correct footwear and exercise shoes. If you pronate excessively you could be placing an excessive strain on your feet, however overpronators can also place an excessive strain on the ankles, legs, knees, hips and lower back.
Runners often claim to be an overpronator or even an underpronator or supinator. These terms may very well be viewed in a negative light when they really are not a problem at all. On the other hand people may be overpronators and not even know about it and could be at a high risk of developing a musculoskeletal problem.
What is Pronation?
In order to understand overpronation it is important to first know what pronation in the feet actually is. Pronation is a term used to describe the rolling mechanism of the feet when they make contact with the ground. Pronation is a natural process and is important to help deal with the forces which are generated when walking and running.
Pronation – in anatomical terms – means to rotate, and it applies to any rotational movement of a bone. Pronation in the feet involves an inward rolling of the foot throughout the gait which helps with the transfer of force. Normally the foot will move from the heel to the toes with only a small degree of pronation, with a slight inward roll from the outside of the heel to the inside of the foot which helps to support the body weight. Normal pronation involves the rolling of the foot to approximately 15 degrees. If you have normal foot arches, you are likely to be a neutral runner and will most likely pronate normally.
Overpronation is when there is excessive rotation beyond the optimum level, more specifically involving more than 15 degrees of difference in angle between the plane of the foot and the plane of the leg. It is often linked with flat feet, fallen arches and collapsed arches. When the arches are high, there is not usually sufficient pronation. This is called underpronation or supination.
What is Supination?
Supination comes from the word supine, which means face up. When you lie on your back on a bed you are in a supine position, and your arm is in a supine position when it is outstretched with the palm facing up.
Supination is a term often used by runners to describe a running gait where there is little or no rolling of the foot. The feet remain rigid throughout the stride with supinators, and the weight of the body remains on the outside of the foot throughout the stride.
Supination in the feet is often called underpronation, and is a lack of roll throughout the gait. When there is insufficient rotation and the feet underpronate, they remain rigid and inflexible and are often unable to effectively cushion the forces generated by walking and running. Supinators are more likely to experience premature tiring of their feet, and muscle fatigue in the feet can lead to a number of overuse problems developing. Supination – or underpronation – is often linked with high arched feet.
When is Pronation Considered to be Overpronation?
Too much of a good thing can be bad, and when it comes to pronation of the foot this is often the case. When the foot rolls too much during contact with the ground, the body weight is not cushioned effectively. The degree to which pronation occurs may be difficult to spot without someone observing how you run. It is easier to tell if a runner is pronating excessively when they are observed from behind rather than from above. When overpronation is only mild to moderate it may not be easy to spot without having a professional gait analysis performed.
The rolling of the foot is a natural process and the degree to which pronation occurs will depend on an individual’s gait. It has been suggested that up to 70 percent of runners may overpronate to some degree, although it is not always bad for the body even though pronation may not be at optimum levels. Slight overpronation may be perfectly acceptable and may not place an individual at an increased risk of injury; however determining whether this is the case can only come from a doctor, podiatrist or sports therapist. While specialist running shoe stores may be able to spot whether you are an overpronator after observing you on a treadmill and suggest the best running shoes to suit your gait, it is still wise if you are an overpronator to get your gait checked professionally.
Injuries Caused by Overpronation
Not all foot injuries affecting runners are necessarily down to a particular running gait; it is rarely that simple to diagnose how a foot problem developed . Simply being an overpronator does not mean that a foot injury has been caused by the running gait and it could be due to a number of factors. However mild to severe overpronators tend to be at a higher risk of developing musculoskeletal problems due to the increased stresses and strains which are placed on the body when the foot does not move in an optimum manner. The following injuries are frequently due to overpronation of the feet.
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome
- Shin splints
- Anterior compartment syndrome
- Plantar fasciitis
- Achilles tendonitis
- Stress fractures
- Back and hip pain
- Ankle pain
How to Tell if you are an Overpronator
If you cannot afford to get a proper gait analysis completed, having someone observe you on a treadmill from behind will give you an idea if you are an overpronator. It is possible to tell without observing directly whether you are likely to be an overpronator by looking at your foot arches. Check your foot arch height by standing in water and then on a wet floor or piece of paper which will show your footprint. If your footprints show little to no narrowing in the middle, then you have flat feet or fallen arches. This makes it highly likely that you will overpronate to some degree when running. If you have low or fallen arches, you should get your gait checked to see how much you overpronate, and whether you need to take steps to reduce the level to which you overpronate.
Another good test is to have a look at the wear pattern on an old pair of trainers. Overpronators will wear out the outside of the heel and the inside of the toe more quickly than other parts of the shoe. If the wear is quite even, you are likely to have a neutral running gait. Wear primarily down the outside edge means that you are a supinator.
When you replace your running shoes you may benefit from shoes for overpronation. Motion control or stability running shoes are usually the best bet to deal with overpronation.
It is important to identify the cause of overpronation in order to determine the best treatment methods to adopt. Not all treatments and preventative measures will work equally well for everyone, and there may be a little trial and error involved to get the best treatment. A trip to a podiatrist or a sports therapist will help you to establish the cause of overpronation, and they will be able to tell you the best treatments based on your specific degree of overpronation and the cause. Overpronation has many causes, with the most common reasons for excessive pronation listed below:
- Low arches
- Flexible flat feet
- Fallen arches
- Gait abnormalities
- Abnormal bone structure
- Abnormal musculature
- Bunions, corns and calluses
What Can Be Done About Overpronation of the Feet?
Overpronation of the feet can be corrected in some cases and in others it can be effectively managed. Overpronators can train themselves to change their running gait, wear arch supports, orthotic insoles or specialist shoes for overpronators. In order to determine exactly what is happening during the stride, it is necessary to have a gait analysis conducted by a professional. The extent of overpronation can then be determined, and the causes can be identified and corrected directly. The main corrective methods used for excessive pronation are listed below:
Orthotics are the most straightforward and simplest solution to overpronation. Orthotics are devices which can be slipped into shoes which will offer varying degrees of correction to the motion of the foot. Orthotics help to support the arches and distribute the body weight effectively, and are usually the best treatment choice for moderate to severe overpronation.
Orthotics may require existing insoles to be removed from your shoes to accommodate them; although most running shoes will have a removable insole to accommodate an orthotic insole.
Runners, joggers and avid exercisers tend to prefer overpronation shoes for running to help correct the stride and prevent excessive overpronation. Overpronation shoes for runners fall into two categories: motion control shoes and stability shoes. Motion control running shoes limit the rolling of the feet, and stability shoes are more rigid and offer extra cushioning for the feet without directly correcting overpronation.
Muscle Strengthening and Stretching
Strengthening the muscles in the legs can be an effective method of treatment to correct overpronation; however this will not be effective for curing overpronation in all runners. Muscle strengthening is advisable if it is a muscle imbalance which is causing the foot to overpronate, or if there is a muscle weakness. Stretching the muscles is always wise and stretching alone may be sufficient to prevent injuries.
It is possible for some runners to alter their running gait, although this can be difficult to achieve. Correcting the gait – such as changing from being a heel striker to a midfoot or forefoot runner will take practice. As a therapy for overpronators, gait correction is not a universal solution as not all runners will be able to successfully change their running gait. For some, changing the gait can be worse than being an overpronator and can make foot problems even more likely to occur. If you are considering gait correction you should speak to a podiatrist or sports therapist.