Runners and pronation

Pronation and your running gait

Pronation is a slight rolling of the foot during the course of a run. Overpronation, when the rolling in is excessive, can lead to running injuries due to the extra stress it places on the ankle, hip and pelvis. Here's the guide to pronation and how you can prevent it causing problems for you and your running.

You may have heard the term 'pronation' mentioned among keen runners, and if you pronate that's no cause for alarm. Pronation is not necessarily a bad thing — it forms an integral part of your running gait.

Your running gait is the cycle between when your foot first hits the ground through to the next time the same foot hits the ground again.

This running cycle is split into five stages:

  • Stance: When your foot first strikes the running surface.
  • Loading: When your heel contact with the running surface to the time your forefoot touches the running surface.
  • Mid-stance: Your heel starts to lift, and the forefoot flexes.
  • Toe off: Your foot leaves the running surface.
  • Swing: When your foot leaves the ground and touches again.

Pronation when running

Pronation is an inward rolling of the foot, usually occurring during the mid-stance phase mentioned above. When this inward roll becomes excessive, this becomes known as overpronation

Overpronation when running

This occurs when the foot rolls too far inwards. The foot enters the loading phase in a position that allows it to make contact with the running surface earlier than normal. Then quite commonly the medial (big toe) side of the foot stays in contact with the running surface for longer than a normally pronating food would. As a result the foot can’t absorb the impact of the heel strike efficiently or adapt to the running surface effectively, meaning that injuries can occur.

Prolonged overpronation

Overpronation can become problem for the distance runner as the repeated running action can put extra stress on areas such as the ankle, knee, hip and pelvis. Overpronation reduces the ability to propel the body forward at maximum efficiency (as compared with a normal running motion), and as a result, the runner may need to draw power from other areas of the body to achieve maximum forward propulsion, thereby increasing the risk of injury to these other areas.

Dealing with overpronation

The type of running shoe you purchase will be a key factor in your ability to deal with overpronation. Motion control or structure cushioning sports shoes help reduce the total amount of pronation in the foot. Most running shoes are designed so as not to allow the medial (big toe) side of the shoe to compress as much as the lateral (little toe) side, meaning that it is much harder for the foot to pronate.

However, if a standard off-the-shelf shoe doesn’t offer enough control there is the option of customizing the shoes further  with custom-molded footbeds or orthotics. These are both excellent solutions provided that the orthotics produced are running specific and made to a high quality. They have to be running-specific because the different sports require different foot motions. For example, a tennis player may make lots of sideways movements unlike a runner whose motion is generally always going to be in a forwards motion.

The best way of finding out your running motion is potentially putting you at risk of injury is to go for running gait analysis. The service is available at most specialized running shops, who will usually assess your running gait with video analysis and then suggest the best running shoes for you, or advise if you will need to invest in some custom-made orthotics. While the service may cost you, or in most cases be free provided you purchase your running shoes from them, it is a wortwhile investment and one that will contribute to your long-term running health.

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