Walking and running are very natural activities. Very few people need to be told how to do them; they’re just something we do. But just because you can do something without thinking about it does not mean you’re doing it right.
The human body is amazingly complex. It’s made up of over 206 bones and 600 muscles, and 7 trillion nerves, all of which need to work correctly so you can walk and run safely and efficiently. However, sometimes things go wrong, and your feet are a common source of walking and running-related problems.
Pronation refers to the way your foot rolls when it hits the ground. It’s an entirely natural action that helps to transfer force from one part of your foot to another, as well as absorb and distribute shock.
However, over and under pronation can both cause problems, so it’s useful to know what type of pronator you are. In this guide, you’ll learn the three different types of pronation, identify whether you are normal, under, or an overpronator, and find out what you can do to fix any issues that you have.
Normal pronation, also known as a neutral gait, is how your feet SHOULD work, although it’s not all that common as many people have some kind of gait issue(1).
With normal pronation, your foot lands on the outside of the heel and then rolls inward toward the ball to dissipate shock and transport your weight. You then push off the front of your foot, using all your toes fairly equally.
In neutral pronation, your heels, ankles, and knees should form straight vertical lines, and there should be no pronounced inward or outward rolling of your foot. This type of pronation is both biomechanically efficient and should lead to fewer foot, ankle, knee, hip, and back problems, all of which can be caused by over and under pronation.
Overpronation, also known as excess pronation, sees the foot rolling inward. The foot lands on the outside of the heal as normal but then rolls inward, transferring the weight onto the inside and the ball of the foot. You then push off your big toe rather than all five.
Overpronation can cause your arches to drop, leading to several uncomfortable conditions and injuries, including shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and bunions.
Overpronation can also affect your knees, putting extra pressure on the inside of the knee joint.
Under pronators tend to put more weight on the outside of their feet.
This is called supination. In supination, the outside of the heel hits the ground first but more noticeably than with pronators and overpronators.
There is minimal inward roll, and the landing force is then transferred up and along the outside of the foot to the small toe.
Supination puts stress on the outside of the ankle, and there is an increased risk of sprains on uneven ground. In addition, supinators are more likely to suffer from shin splints and plantar fasciitis than those with a neutral gait.
How It Can Be Diagnosed
Identifying and diagnosing your gait is a relatively straightforward process. In fact, there are a few ways you can determine if you are an over or under pronator or if you have a neutral gait.
Firstly, look at a pair of well-worn shoes. The wear pattern on the sole will reveal your gait. If you have a neutral gait, you should see an S-shaped pattern of wear from the outer heel down to your big toe. There should be some noticeable wear across the whole width of the heel and the toes.
Overpronators will see more wear on the inside of the shoe, including the heel and under the ball of the foot. The arches may also be depressed.
Supinators should be able to see increased wear on the outside edge of the shoe, from the outer heel down to the little toe.
Another way to identify your gait involves wetting your feet and then looking and your footprint.
Normal pronators should see a full footprint with a small but defined arch. In contrast, overpronators may not have any discernible arch. The foot may look entirely flat. Supinators will have a very narrow footprint, with a long, high arch.
The last way to identify your gait is to have a gait assessment, typically carried out by a running shoe technician or a podiatrist.
This involves walking and/or running while being observed. Markers are placed on your lower legs and tracked to reveal the gait mechanics.
A gait analysis may also involve walking, running, and standing on a pressure pad.
It’s worth noting that your gait may change when you move from walking to running. Running tends to exaggerate gait issues.
Because of this, the ‘footprint” method is of limited use for runners as it may not give an accurate indicator of your natural footfall during physical activities.
Ways to Treat it
Over or under pronation can cause problems up and down your legs, even affecting your lower back. Because of this, you must identify your gait and try to correct any abnormalities so that it’s as close to neutral as possible.
One way to do this is with orthotic insoles. Orthotic insoles are made to measure and designed to provide the support you need to achieve a neutral gait. They’re made from molds of your feet and can usually be removed and put into whichever shoes you are wearing.
There are also “off the peg” insoles, but these aren’t personalized. They may, however, be sufficient to correct minor gait abnormalities. Alternatively, there are running shoes made specifically for overpronators and supinators. These shoes have built-in orthotic insoles and are engineered to support and control the motion of your feet.
Gait can also be corrected using specialist exercises. For example, overpronators may be prescribed arch lifting and strengthening exercises, whereas a supinator may need to stretch the muscles on the inside of their shins.
It’s probably not a good idea to try this on your own, as the wrong combination of stretching and strengthening exercises could make things worse and not better. Instead, corrective exercises are best prescribed by a qualified physical therapist or podiatrist(2).
Each of your feet has 26 bones, 30 joints, and more than 100 muscles. They are phenomenally complex. And yet, despite this complexity, most of us take our feet for granted. We wear any old shoes and base our shoe purchases on price or color and not the needs of our feet.
This can lead to aching feet, sore knees, painful hips, and even back problems. After all, your feet provide you with your platform for standing, walking, and running. If they don’t work correctly, the rest of your body can suffer.
The good news is that it’s a relatively straightforward process to analyze your gait and identify whether you are a pronator, supinator, or have a neutral footfall. Get your feet checked, look at the soles of your old shoes, or just check out your wet footprints next time you get out of the bath or shower.
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to buy the best shoes for walking and running. Not only will the right shoes reduce your risk of injury, but they could also increase your running performance. You’ll definitely have less foot pain!
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- Gait Abnormalities, https://stanfordmedicine25.stanford.edu/the25/gait.html
- American Podiatric Medical Association, https://www.apma.org/Patients/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=985