Before you became a runner, you probably didn’t give much thought as to how your feet were interacting with the ground on a daily basis. In fact, maybe you haven’t even thought about it until you heard the word ‘pronation’ mentioned when trying on running shoes. It turns out that it isn’t just affected by how your foot lands; the actual anatomy of your foot has a role in it, as well.
“People that underpronate will have a higher arch foot structure in stance [and] people that overpronate will have a flatter foot structure,” explains Dr. C. Keith McSpadden, a foot and ankle surgeon and president of the North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute. “One foot type is not necessarily better than another, but the bony foot structure can determine what type of potential injuries a runner may be predisposed to.”
Here’s what else you should know about your gait as your feet carry you through increased mileage and new terrain.
First off, pronation is something we all do, so it’s nothing to overthink. Simply put, it is one part of the side-to-side motion our foot makes when walking. More specifically, it is the outward motion. Dr. McSpadden explains that along with the inward motion — supination — we are able to maintain our balance when walking.
“The upward (dorsiflexion) and downward (plantar flexion) motion of the foot comes from the ankle joint,” he adds. “The outward (pronation) and inward (supination) motion comes from the joints beneath the ankle joint.”
Whether you over- or underpronate — or over- or undersupinate — all depends on how much time your foot spends on the ground in that position. Dr. Joe Griffin, podiatrist at Coastal Foot Center, a practice with two locations in Alabama, notes that normally the foot pronates right after the heel contacts the ground, thus absorbing shock and adapting to the terrain. The way your foot hits the ground can dictate what injuries you may experience. Understanding your gait and choosing shoes to help balance out any abnormalities can prevent issues that don’t just help keep your feet healthy, but also your legs.
“Over- or abnormal pronation is when the foot stays pronated longer than normal during the gait cycle,” notes Dr. Griffin. “This causes the foot to become unstable and hypermobile when the foot is bearing weight. which, in turn, can result in arch, heel, leg, knee and/or low-back symptoms.”
HOW TO EXAMINE YOUR GAIT
Though it is easiest to have a professional examine your gait, there is a way you can tell how your feet are hitting the ground. It isn’t recommended to watch your own gait cycle because — as Dr. McSpadden notes — looking down at your feet naturally changes the way you walk. Both Dr. McSpadden and Dr. Griffin agree that having a professional assess your gait is the best way to have your entire gait cycle analyzed. However, if you don’t have access to an expert, grabbing an old pair of running shoes can do the trick.
“It is possible to check yourself for over- or underpronation; one way is to check the wear pattern of your running shoes,” reveals Dr. Griffin. “If the shoe is excessively worn on the outside of the sole, you underpronate. If the sole is excessively worn on the inside of the sole, you overpronate.”
Getting your gait analyzed when you are buying running shoes is the easiest way to go, because shoe experts can make suggestions then and there for shoes designed for your foot type. It is easy to become overwhelmed by all of the brands and technical offerings of running shoes, so expert recommendations are a great way to narrow down your search and then go by feel of the shoe.
THE BOTTOM LINE
All of this comes down to getting the best shoe for your foot and ultimately, preventing injuries. You don’t need to change your gait if you do over- or under-pronate; you simply need to make sure your feet are evaluated by an expert and you have the right support your foot may need.
“My recommendation is to use a neutral heel shoe that has some degree of stiffness through the arch,” concludes Dr. McSpadden. “From there, if a runner needs to control pronation or supination, that motion is best controlled with a custom foot orthotic, [which] should be prescribed by a foot specialist, who can use the orthotic to accommodate for subtleties of every foot type.”
Dr. Griffin echoes this advice, adding that sometimes even the perfect running shoe isn’t enough to overcome over- or under-pronation. In this case he also recommends a supportive insole orthotic. “A supportive insole or orthotic may still be necessary to overcome arch, heel, leg, knee and/or low-back symptoms associated with overpronation, while it is common for underpronators to have to regularly stretch the calves, legs and, especially, the iliotibial band,” he discloses.