Last updated: 10/23/2020
Pronation is the act of turning the palm of your hand or sole of your foot downward. For your feet, a simple way of thinking about pronation is how your foot rolls inward and the arch collapses. There are three main movement’s which take place simultaneously as the foot pronates: these movements involve the arch, the leg bones (tibia and fibula), and the forefoot (metatarsal rays). This particular sequence of movements can be a benefit or disadvantage for your body.
People often say they have flat feet or high arches.; however, a startling number of people end up describing their foot incorrectly. They assume that since they walk on the outside of their shoes they must supinate (roll to the outside). This is often wrong since the standard gait of an average person lands with their feet pointed outwards at approximately 7 degrees between heel contact, foot flat, and into midstance. This can have a big affect on whether a shoe ends up being comfortable or not. Below you can see an image of the average gait cycle.
The good quality is your body absorbs the impact force as your foot hits the floor. In addition, the arch adapts to the surface you are walking on in order to maintain balance and reduce the shock as you move.
The potential negative is what your body does afterwards. Does your foot continue to over-pronate and affect the alignment throughout the rest of your body? This can play a role in injuries or conditions like plantar fasciitis and bone spurs, as well as knee, hip, and back pain. Over pronation can also lead to difficulties propelling ourselves forward since the foot is in a more unlocked or flexible position.
Pronation is three different movements occurring simultaneously in the foot. The arch will collapse inward, the tibia and fibula will rotate towards the middle of your body, and the forefoot rotates away from the body. You can see this illustrated below.
This movement is the tibia and fibula rotating inward. This rotation can add extra stress along the shin, Achilles, ankle, knee, and hip.
When the arch collapses, this is the main function that allows the body to absorb shock. This movement unlocks the foot, enabling it to adapt to the surface you are moving on. It allows the foot to be more flexible. This position can also add extra stress and stretch along the plantar fascia. When the arch collapses, the heel changes its position simultaneously, which is called eversion.
As the arch collapses, the forefoot moves away from the middle of the body. This can put extra stress on the bunion, nerves, and toes of the foot. Often when people over-pronate, they push off the side of the big toe instead of through it, resulting in callousing on the side of the big toe. The toe off part of the gait cycle can have further complications if there is limited range of motion in the big toe, known as hallux limitus or rigidus.
The level of pronation for an individual can vary significantly, thus it is important for the person helping you to be aware of this in order to guide you to the right types of shoes. You should always consult with a medical professional for more information.
The type of activity and makeup of an individual can greatly affect the type of shoes recommended. As a general rule, when fitting a pronated foot, we need to take into account the three different movements. A shoe that provides the right type of arch support will often correct some of the rotation issues and reduce potential pain.
The right type of shoe or insole can greatly reduce the amount of pronation which may prevent or alleviate the pain symptoms you may be experiencing. Most people believe they need a ‘soft’ shoe, and in some cases that is correct. The interesting thing to consider about pronation is you don’t always need a soft cushioned shoe. Sometimes, depending on the severity, a firm shoe can be a much better option for a pronated foot to provide the structure that the foot is unable to maintain.
Since a pronating foot already absorbs impact better, a firmer contoured arch support could be the best course of action. For running shoes (with the exception of minimalistic footwear) stability models tend to be better. Most running brands like New Balance, Brooks, Hoka, On Running, and Under Armour offer a stability style to provide structure for a pronated foot.
Some specific models would be
New Balance 860, 940, 1540.
Brooks Adrenaline, Transcend, Addiction.
Hoka Gaviota and Arahi.
Outside of running shoes, casual and dress shoes don't typically design footwear based on pronation or supination. You then need to take into account how high the arch is in the shoe and if it is a good match for the level of pronation you may experience. However, Dansko, Vionic, Taos, Naot, Birkenstock, along with a wide variety of other brands offer arch support in their shoes. There are also insoles from Powerstep and Aetrex which can be used in a variety of shoes. At Roderer Shoe Center, we have knowledgeable fit specialists to guide you to the best shoe for you.
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