What is Overpronation?
Overpronation is a biomechanical defect where the feet roll inwards excessively during weight-bearing activity, such as while standing, walking or running. Normal feet pronate to a small degree and roll in slightly during a step. This help to absorb the shocks, and redistribute weight evenly across the feet and legs. When this happens excessively, the foot continues to roll inwards even as the foot is beginning to push off the ground.
Overpronation is the result of the degradation of muscles, tendons, and tissues of the feet, especially in the arch. Many factors can contribute to the loss of internal foot structure. Repetitive heavy use of the feet, such as occurs with runners can cause fatigue in the muscles, tendons, and tissues, leading to overpronation. Additionally, the structure of a person’s hips and legs can make them predisposed to overpronation. When the hips and legs naturally roll inward while walking, overpronation is far more likely.
When is Pronation Considered to be Overpronation?
Too much of a good thing can be bad, and when it comes to pronation of the foot this is often the case. When the foot rolls too much during contact with the ground, the body weight is not cushioned effectively. The degree to which pronation occurs may be difficult to spot without someone observing how you run. It is easier to tell if a runner is pronating excessively when they are observed from behind rather than from above. When overpronation is only mild to moderate it may not be easy to spot without having a professional gait analysis performed.
The rolling of the foot is a natural process and the degree to which pronation occurs will depend on an individual’s gait. It has been suggested that up to 70 percent of runners may overpronate to some degree, although it is not always bad for the body even though pronation may not be at optimum levels. Slight overpronation may be perfectly acceptable and may not place an individual at an increased risk of injury; however determining whether this is the case can only come from a doctor, podiatrist or sports therapist. While specialist running shoe stores may be able to spot whether you are an overpronator after observing you on a treadmill and suggest the best running shoes to suit your gait, it is still wise if you are an overpronator to get your gait checked professionally.
To determine whether you overpronate, stand up in bare feet and look at your feet and ankles in a mirror. The instep should be up off the ground slightly, and the ankles should remain straight. If the foot is flat on the floor and the ankles bow in, it is likely that you overpronate. You can also take a look at the soles of your shoes. In optimally functioning feet, the soles of the shoes will show even wear across the soles. For people who overpronate, the inner part of the toe will wear out more quickly than the outer area. Another test is to make footprints either in the sand or with wet feet on blotting paper. Your instep area should not leave a print if your pronation is neutral and you have normal or high arches.
Because overpronation twists the lower body during the weight-bearing portion of a step, the feet, legs, and ankles fall out of alignment and pressure is placed on areas that are not designed to bear weight in this distorted position. Many people who overpronate suffer from shin splints, plantar fasciitis, bunions, and a host of other lower limb conditions. This is especially true for people who are very active or on their feet for much of the day since the repeated striking of the foot in the overpronated position is a common contributing factor to many of these conditions.
How to Tell if you are an Overpronator?
There are some easy home checks you can complete to see if it is likely that you are prone to overpronation when you walk and run. If you do overpronate, or if you have fallen or low arches, you should consider getting checked out by an MD if you are in pain, and a podiatrist if you are not. In both cases, you should try to find a medical professional with experience in dealing with athletes and runners. To check to see if you are an overpronator at home, try the following methods:
- Look at both sides of your feet in a full-length mirror when standing normally. Can you still see an arch? Is it only barely visible? If you cannot see your arch you may have flat feet or fallen arches and will be prone to overpronate
- Do the footprint test. Wet the feet and stand on a surface that will show your footprints. If you have narrowed in the middle of the foot your arches are fine. If you have a less pronounced narrowing, you may have flat feet or collapsing arches. This will lead to overpronation and collapsed arches almost always require additional support
- Find out for sure about your level of overpronation by having a gait analysis performed. This will tell you the degree to which you overpronate, which will enable you to find the best possible treatment options
Types of Shoes for Overpronation
There are three main types of running shoes to choose from if you are an overpronator. Motion control running shoes are the most popular choice; with stability shoes second and finally, some overpronators can run in neutral running shoes in comfort and without risk of injury. There is no hard and fast rule as every runner is different.
Motion Control Shoes
Motion control shoes are chosen by most moderate to severe overpronators. They are usually the stiffest shoes and have greater support along the inside edge. This helps to support the foot while it is pronating and offers extra cushioning throughout the gait. They offer maximum control of motion to limit overpronation, and have the maximum stability (more than stability shoes!) and are the best choice for use with orthotics.
Stability Running Shoes
Most running shoes fall into the stability category. Stability shoes are a little stiffer than neutral shoes, yet flex more than motion control shoes. Stability shoes are the most popular choice for those runners who overpronate slightly, and even neutral runners may prefer the comfort and support from this type of running shoe. Stability running shoes offer comfort and support in good measure. Neutral shoes which tend to be more flexible and have a more lightweight design, especially at the higher end of the price range.
Neutral Running Shoes
Designed with the neutral runner in mind, this type of running shoe has a normal level of support and cushioning; depending on the model you choose. Neutral running shoes are best suited to those with a neutral running gait, and mild overpronators or supinators. Neutral shoes can be highly flexible, and if you are running for long distances or occasionally off road, you may find stability shoes more comfortable.
Although it is possible to tackle overpronation head on and accept that it is a problem and deal with it, it is best to find out exactly what is the cause. Not all causes of overpronation can be easily corrected – if at all – however, there are various techniques to help reduce the level of overpronation and the best course of treatment will depend on first having a full diagnosis of the problem. When the cause of overpronation is known the best treatments and techniques can be applied to ensure that it is corrected. The best treatments will depend on your lifestyle and exercise preference
Overpronation is commonly associated with fallen arches. When the arches collapse, they no longer provide the support necessary to keep the foot in the proper position and the foot overpronates as a result. Many of the conditions resulting from overpronation or fallen arches can be corrected by wearing shoes with a good arch support or using an arch support insert or insole. Strengthening the foot and lower legs can also help restore the foot to neutral pronation, thereby alleviating many painful consequences of overpronated feet.
Running shoes from big name brands such as Asics, Nike, New Balance, Brooks and Mizuno often include models with varying degrees of pronation control. For mild overpronators to the most severe cases, the design of the shoes is such that pronation is corrected and normal foot function restored. In severe cases, custom orthotic insoles may be required to offer more specific gait correction.