What is Foot Pronation?

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If you’re experiencing unusual pain in your feet, as well as in your legs and lower back, there could be a number of reasons why. However, one of the more common (and most uncomfortable) answers to this problem is in the way you pronate your feet, both with your stance and in your gait.

Pronated feet alone are nothing to worry about. Pronation is simply the natural motion your feet fall into whenever you walk or run.

supinated feet

However, it can be harmful if your feet overpronate or underpronate in your gait cycle, as this will cause damage to your legs, knees, hip joints, and even your spine.

To understand what makes your foot pronated wrongly, however, you must understand what foot pronation is.

Let’s take a look at that below, and see how you can relieve this ailment.

Pronation Definition


Pronation, also known as eversion, is basically the motion your foot makes as you take a step.

As your foot rolls from heel to toe, it distributes your weight across the motion so as to propel you forward, allowing you to walk or run with ease – and without injury.

Your gait can show a pattern of neutral pronation, overpronation, or underpronation (also known as supination).

A little overpronation or underpronation is actually quite normal. After all, no one’s body is perfectly symmetrical or balanced.

This rotation of your feet provides much-needed shock absorption for the lower half of your body as you walk, and also aids in correcting your posture and the form of your pelvis and spine.

However, when your gait is too much of either, this becomes a problem.

Overpronation

Overpronation is when your feet roll excessively downward and inward at the ankle.

The big toe and the second toe thus have more pressure on them to push the foot off the floor, due to this continued inward rolling of your foot. As a result, your foot will twist more with each step.

A common characteristic of overpronated feet is “flat feet,” meaning your feet do not have the arch in the middle that’s necessary to support your stride.

The most common injuries you can sustain, should you leave overpronated feet unchecked or untreated, include:

Runner’s Knee

As the name suggests, this type of overuse-injury is most commonly found in runners, though even non-runners can suffer from this.

Medically, it is known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, and it occurs when the kneecap is thrown off its usual alignment, therefore rubbing against the thighbone and causing knee pain, as well as swelling.

Though pain is felt in the knee, the cause of runner’s knee is usually above or below the knee, and thus overpronation can be a culprit.

Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are small cracks or severe bruising within a bone, due to overuse or repetitive activity.

The bones of your feet and lower legs bear your weight and are thus more susceptible to this type of injury.

Bunions and Calluses

Bunions are painful, bony lumps that develop on the inside of the big toe’s joint.

They develop slowly over time and are a result of pressure on the joint causing the big toe to lean toward the second toe. Overpronation’s tilt on your feet can lead to this shifting pressure.

Calluses can be either a thick, rough area of skin or a hardened, raised bump on the skin. While rarely painful, they can develop to be so, if given time.

Typically, they develop on the soles of your feet, especially on the heels or balls, or even on your knees if you wear ill-fitting shoes that chafe your feet constantly.

Shin Splints

Medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints are an inflammation of muscles, tendons, and/or bone tissue around your tibia (or your shinbone).

This, like many of the injuries listed here, is caused by overuse. Overpronation only aggravates this injury further.

pronation definition

Plantar Fasciitis

This is when the band of tissue that supports your foot’s arch becomes irritated or inflamed.

This band, medically known as the plantar fascia, is supposed to absorb the stresses we put our feet through on a daily basis.

Too much pressure from overpronation can lead to painful pressure damages, such as heel pain or tears in the tissue itself.

Achilles Tendinitis

Named after the famous Greek hero Achilles, who in legend was a nearly invincible demigod slain by an arrow to his heel, this injury occurs when the large tendon that runs down the back of your lower leg, also known as the Achilles tendon, becomes irritated or inflamed due to overuse or degeneration.

Underpronation (or Supinated Feet)

Underpronation, also known as supination, is when your feet do not roll inward enough after they land on the ground, resulting in excess shock absorption to the outer foot areas, rather than the inside foot areas, which are far more equipped to absorb shock.

Your pinky toes and other outer toes will thus bear excess weight when pushing your feet away from the ground as you walk.

While supination is less common than overpronation or even normal pronation, it can still occur.

Common characteristics of supinated feet include excessively high arches in the feet, resulting in the uneven distribution of shock absorption, and tight Achilles tendons.

The most common injuries you can get if you leave supinated feet unchecked or untreated can include:

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Medically referred to as iliotibial band friction syndrome, this occurs when the iliotibial band, a band of tissue that runs from the outside of your hip down to the outside of your knee, becomes tight or inflamed due to overuse.

This band helps to stabilize the knee joint, and thus, if it does not work properly, moving your knee can become painful. This type of injury is most commonly found in runners.

General Instability and Stiffness

Supination can cause general instability or stiffness in not only your feet and legs, but also in your ankles, knees, hip joints, and even lower back.

Overuse injuries such as runner’s knee, stress fractures, and calluses are also common with those who suffer from supinated feet.

Plantar Fasciitis

As with overpronation, the stresses and pressure from supination can also cause plantar fasciitis.

Another major cause of this injury is extremely high arches, which can be caused by supination.

Achilles Tendinitis

As with overpronation, the overuse that supination causes, especially in the now tight Achilles tendons, can result in this type of injury.

Causes of Deviations in Your Pronation

These deviations can occur due to a number of things, sometimes in combination with one another.

Such causes may include:

  • Muscular compensations due to poor posture.
  • Muscular compensations due to old leg injuries that may have left a scar.
  • Poor running form.
  • Weakness in the lower body from limited amount of activity.
  • Weakness in the lower body due to excess weight, in itself either due to pregnancy or being generally overweight or obese.
  • Weakness in the lower body from limited range of motion and stiffness due to ageing.
  • Overuse due to exercising too much or standing around for long periods of time.
  • Loss of cartilage in the subtalar joint of the foot, which is often due to arthritis or osteoarthritis.

Treatment of Pronation Deviation Problems

Treatment for Overpronation

Motion control shoes are said to help those with overpronated feet by correcting their gait cycle since these shoes have increased medial support and are stiffer to help guide the foot back to its proper alignment.

pronated feet

However, tests regarding these types of shoes have mixed results, so it is up to you whether or not they have a viable solution.

Other types of shoes, particularly those that offer arch support, are also highly recommended.

Orthotic technology is designed to help you feel more comfortable standing, reduces lower back or heel pain, and prevents further muscle strains. Custom orthotics, which usually take the form of shoe inserts that your podiatrist prescribes to you, are recommended.

There are also more generic orthotic inserts you can buy without a prescription (think Dr. Scholl’s or other, similar brands).

If your pain becomes too severe, your doctor may also suggest you take physical therapy, where a specialist can teach you specialized stretches and exercises to balance your weight properly.

Treatment for Supination

Neutral shoes or well-cushioned shoes that absorb more of the shock with each step are highly recommended for those with supinated feet.

It is not advised to seek out motion control shoes or stability shoes instead, as these would not help you. Rather, if you still have pain, it is better to seek a podiatrist, so they can fit you for custom orthotics or recommend physical therapy.

Please note that treatment for either overpronation or supination, as with any treatment, should not be handled quickly or aggressively. Healing takes time and rushing the process may result in further posture issues, muscle fatigue, or other types of muscle compensations you may not already have.

Pronation adjustment, over time, allows susceptible or sore muscles and joints to redistribute your weight, as well as shock absorption.

Also note that if you continue to experience heel pain or other discomfort radiating up from your ankles, despite this treatment, it may be wise to consider other problems at work here.

Be sure you have already ruled out heel spurs, tendonitis, or types of arthritis as the sources of your pain. If you are still unsure, it is best to seek a professional for a second opinion.

Here’s a video explaining more on overpronation.

Conclusion

Be sure to pay close attention to how your feet pronate when you stand or move about. Your foot should not roll too far inward or outward, or else this overpronation or supination can cause you serious issues further down the line.

There are, luckily, a number of easy ways to treat your pain, should you suffer from overpronated or supinated feet, allowing you to get back to your everyday activities!

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