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Have you heard of the term "overpronation?" If the answer is no, you’re not alone. In fact, many of us overpronate and don’t even know it.
When we walk, jog or run, the structural elements in our feet work together to roll naturally inward as we land—which is referred to as pronation. In layman’s terms, it’s the rotation of a body part (typically hands and feet) facing downward. While many of us can move without complications, for some, our skeletal structure causes more of a downward and inward tilt, causing overpronation of the feet.
Meet the Expert
What is Overpronation?
“Pronation is a combination of movements within your foot and ankle that cause the arch of the foot to flatten, and is a normal and needed function of the foot as it helps the foot adapt to surfaces,” says Gard. However, if there is no space between the arch of the foot and the floor when the entire foot is flat on the surface, then the foot is overpronated.
“Overpronation can become a problem if it places excess stress on various structures in the foot, and may even influence movement patterns further up the leg.”
How Does Overpronation Differ From Supination?
There are three types of foot classification:
- Flat foot (low arch)—Causes the foot to roll inward, what we now know as overpronation
- Normal arch (neutral)—Which rolls the foot to a stable position
- High Arch—An outward turn on the foot, known as supination (underpronation)
“Supination, like pronation, is a necessary motion of the foot that enables it to stiffen for push-off,” says Gard. “But too much supination can become problematic as the feet become a poor shock absorber.”
Although it’s advisable to seek guidance from a qualified foot specialist, there is a simple test to check for overpronation or supination yourself. “For signs of overpronation, you can wet the bottoms of your bare feet and then walk on concrete. If the wet impression on the concrete is your entire foot versus just the ball, outside and heel of your foot, then you overpronate,” explains Gard. He also suggests looking at the soles of your shoes for signs of wear and tear on the outside heel, edge, and slightly outward lean.
Conversely, suspected supination can look at the arches of the feet while standing to take note of the space between the surface of the floor and the arch of the foot. “If there appears to be a lot of space between the surface they are standing on and the arch of their foot, they probably supinate too much.” Besides pain in the foot, supination can lead to added strain on the ankles, and cause shin splints and hard skin to develop on the outer part of your foot.
Implications of Overpronation
Although many overpronators are not aware of an imbalance, given a lack of discomfort, it’s essential to address the root of the problem when pain persists.
“A telltale sign indicating a client may be overpronated is if they complain of heel or arch pain, as well as issues with their knees, hips, or back,” says Murdock. “Other signs are corns and calluses on their feet, as well as hammertoe," when one or more small toes bend at the joint. “When ignored, overpronation can put a person at risk of various injuries due to the disruption of the body’s natural alignment, and because weight is shifted when the foot strikes the ground, it can cause intense pain and other muscles and/or joints to overwork.”
Overpronation may also hamper your fitness performance, given the foot's inability to efficiently push off or propel upwards or forward, which, according to Murdock, can impact your walking, running, and jumping, as the body has to work harder to create propulsion.
Tweaking Your Fitness Routine
In terms of exercise, some workouts may affect overpronators more than others. “Runners especially can suffer. Excessive rubbing and strain on the knee joint can create pain,” states Murdock. “But in general, overpronation can cause long-term wear and tear on the body’s joints, so it’s advisable not to ignore the problem before it causes further damage.” Other potential injuries include shin splints, plantar fasciitis (pain at the bottom of the heel), and IT Band Syndrome, resulting from overuse of the band of tissues located on the outer part of the thigh and knee.
“Once the problem is detected, it’s a good idea to tweak your routine accordingly,” says Murdock. “The goal is to build the muscle strength in your hips and glutes to create an appropriate amount of strength in order to minimize overpronation, given that weakness in the gluteal muscles often contributes to an overpronated foot position.”
To tackle this, she suggests adding explosive movements like jump squats to your routine, to build power and muscle into the lower extremities, as well as barre and Pilates exercises including shoulder bridge (targeting the glutes) and side clam (targeting the side glutes), to enhance strength in this region.
Can Sneakers Improve Your Gait?
A 2019 study on the effects of anti-pronation shoes, involving 26 female runners with pronated feet, found that the shoes used in the study had the potential to improve rearfoot eversion (inward tilt from the back) and lower limb joint moments (forces across the joints).
In another study measuring the effectiveness of standard vs. motion control shoes (the latter designed to limit excessive foot motions), the overall findings suggested a lower injury risk in participants who had received motion control footwear.
It might explain the brimming variety of specialist shoes available at the click of a button. “The amount of overpronation can help determine how stable a shoe one may need, and to accurately determine this type, it’s best to go to a store that specializes in those shoes and one that will look at what your foot does while walking or running,” suggests Gard.
Many footwear stores have in-house technology which analyzes your walking or running gait in motion (sometimes on a treadmill). “After deciphering which type of shoe you need, the particular shoe brand that will work best is somewhat a matter of personal preference.”
Top-Rated Shoes for Overpronators
Designed to provide maximum support and stability, the Gel-Kayano’s firm mid-soles provide arch support to those with flatter feet and promote optimum distribution of weight during impact to minimize pronation. The deep cushioning also makes for a solid all-rounder in long-distance running.
The GT-2000 is one of Asics’ leading structured cushioning and support shoes, engineered to spread your bodyweight upon impact for reduced pronation and with solid midsoles providing a supporting arch. Lighter in weight than its Gel-Kayano counterpart, the shoe is more suited for intense workouts that require agility on the feet.
Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21
The Brooks Adrenalaone GT21 features both DNA LOFT, a blend of EVA foam, rubber and air for maximum midsole cushioning, alongside the brand’s integrated GuideRails technolgy – two firm pieces of foam built into the midsole for smoother movements across the joints.
New Balance Fresh Foam 860v11
This New Balance is a trendy stability shoe designed specifically for overpronators, with a solid medial post and added fresh foam providing added support between your foot and the ground.
The Saucony Hurricane is a progressive stability shoe, built for soft landings with its Everun midsole running the full length of the shoes and resting between your foot and the ground. Additionally, this shoe features lightweight PWRRUN+ cushioning for maximum comfort.