Last updated: 10/23/2020
Supination is the act of turning the palm of your hand or the sole of your foot upward. When you think of a supinated foot, you tend to think of a foot that rolls to the outside. This can cause some confusion for people to think they supinate when they potentially pronate.
Most of the population lands on the outside of their heel during the heel contact phase of the gait cycle at a degree of about 7 degrees. Those that supinate tend to not only wear the outside of their heels out, but also the lateral side of their shoe. That is unfortunate for the roughly 10% of the population who supinate.
A supinated foot tends to have limited range of motion and mobility. Another way of saying it is, a supinated foot is not flexible. It cannot absorb impact well and it cannot adapt to surfaces very efficiently or even at all.
A standard stride path for walking is landing first on the heel during heel contact, followed by the outside of their foot contacting the ground just behind the base of their little toe. The weight then transfers across the ball of their foot to the area at the base of the big toe. Lastly, the weight moves through the end of their big toe as they push off their big toe. The red line below shows approximately how pressure moves through the foot during the walking cycle. Part of the gait image is used so you can see how that transition takes place.
When someone’s foot supinates, the red line (representing an individual’s weight movement) doesn’t extend across the ball of the foot and instead remains more towards the smaller toes of the foot. This typically is associated with someone with a high arch and instep. There are three movements that take place for a person whose foot supinates: the leg rotates away from the middle of the body, the arch rolls to the outside, and the forefoot moves toward the middle of the body.
The tibia and fibula rotate outward. This rotation can add extra stress along the shin, Achilles, ankle, knee, and hip. When someone supinates they tend to be susceptible to sprains and twists in their ankle since the foot cannot adapt to surfaces as efficiently.
The arch rolls to the outside. This limits the range of motion of the metatarsal rays causing the foot to ‘lock’ and work more like a lever. The heel is also inverted at this particular time. Since the arch at this stage has limited movement available, the foot cannot absorb shock and it cannot adapt to the surface of the ground.
As the midfoot moves towards the outside, the forefoot has to adapt and moves inward towards the body. This keeps the weight distribution towards the outside of the foot, limiting the ability of the weight to transition over the big toe.
A supinated foot with a high arch also tends to have a lot of pressure under the ball of the foot. The limited mobility and tighter muscles, ligaments, and tendons often lead to claw or hammer toes because of the contracted state.
The level of supination of an individual can vary and 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 makeup of an individual and the types of activities they do can greatly affect the type of shoes recommended. As a general rule, when fitting a supinated foot, we need to take into account all three movements. A shoe with a stable heel counter, a straight lasted shoe, or an insole with a deep heel cup can help prevent the individual’s foot from rolling outward.
The straighter last shape will also improve the surface area in contact with the ground to help prevent rolling the ankle. Since a person with a higher arch and supinated foot won't have the ability to absorb impact, cushioning tends to work really well for this foot type, more so than a high arch support.
For running shoes (with the exception of minimalistic footwear), neutral cushioned shoes tend to be a great option. This type of footwear will give the individual the shock absorption their body does not perform as efficiently.
Running brands like New Balance, Brooks, Hoka, On Running, Merrell, and Under Armour offer neutral cushioned shoes to help aid in this situation. New Balance, Brooks, and Hoka specifically have straighter lasted versions which could help improve balance. The specific models would be the:
New Balance 840
Outside of running shoes, casual and dress shoes don't typically design footwear based on pronation or supination. You would then need to take into account how much cushion is in the shoe, the last shape, and possibly a toe spring to know what would be a better product for the supinated foot.
Some brands with products that can help in this situation are Rockport, Earth, Clark, Teva, Merrell, Keen, as well as several other brands. An insole with a metatarsal pad and a deep heel cup tend to work really well reducing pressure on the ball of the foot and preventing the heel from rolling too far outward. At Roderer Shoe Center, we have knowledgeable fit specialists to guide you to the best shoe for you.