By Nike Running
Which shoes to consider if you overpronate, underpronate, or have a totally normal stride.
Our feet need some degree of pronation, or a slight inward tilt, to stay healthy and help us perform our best. But if your feet tend to collapse inward when you run, or if you notice you’re landing on the outer edge of your feet, it can lead to problems. Here’s what to know.
If you’ve ever gone into a shoe store to purchase a pair of running shoes, you’ve probably had a salesperson ask questions about your gait like, “Do your feet tend to collapse inward when you run?” (This is called overpronation.) Does most of your weight fall on the outer edge of your feet (aka underpronation or supination)? Maybe you did a couple of test strides and noticed only a slight inward tilt as your foot hit the ground. (In sales-speak, this is a neutral gait, or what’s considered normal.) The salesperson may have even had you hop on a treadmill for a gait analysis.
Place your shoes on a flat surface: an inward tilt indicates overpronation; an outward tilt, underpronation.
You don’t actually need one of those to get an idea of what your feet do when you run. Your old running shoes can likely provide clues. Go grab a pair. Do you see excessive wear on the inside edge of the soles, either at the forefoot, the heel or both? This could be a sign of overpronation. Is the sole threadbare on the outside edge? That may be from underpronation. Try another test. Place your shoes on a flat surface: an inward tilt indicates overpronation; an outward tilt, underpronation.
Pronation isn’t a bad thing; everyone needs some degree of it. When a person runs, the foot naturally tilts inward to a pronated position with each step. As they push away from the ground, the foot tilts outward into a supinated position, explains Kate VanDamme, a physical therapist and orthopedic clinical specialist at the NYU Langone Health Sports Performance Center. This natural shifting keeps us nimble on our feet and able to navigate uneven terrain, says Lee Welch, a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in lower-extremity injuries in runners and is the co-owner of The Running PTs. Most important, he says, “it’s a way for your body to absorb force so you don’t hurt yourself.”
And in running, there is a lot of that impact. Each foot strike exerts a force about six times your body weight. Under- or overpronation can prevent your body from optimally distributing that force, which can lead to a host of injuries.
For example, if your foot is collapsing inward, your femur and tibia are internally rotating more, too, says Welch. The instability that creates in the bones of your big toe, or first metatarsal, can lead to plantar fasciitis, IT band friction, piriformis syndrome, knee pain or shin splints, he says.
Because overpronating isn’t the most efficient way for your body to run, you also won’t be able to lift your foot as quickly from the ground. That means more ground-contact time and more force shooting up your leg. “Often, if someone is overpronating, we see a collapse of the entire chain of the body, which can include their knee bending inward paired with a dropped hip on the opposite side,” says VanDamme.
You can find shoes designed to help support your anatomy and running mechanics, and potentially reduce your risk of injury in the process.
When your foot underpronates, or supinates, the joints of your foot do not move to absorb shock, and the majority of weight falls on the outer edge of the foot. This has the opposite effect: your legs may bow outward, says VanDamme. “Landing in this position makes everything more rigid.” Your joints don’t absorb the pounding of running as well, which can lead to the bones absorbing more of the shock and contribute to stress fractures, explains VanDamme.
You can find shoes designed to help support your anatomy and running mechanics, and potentially reduce your risk of injury in the process. If you tend to overpronate, which many runners do, consider shoes with stability features. They have a firmer midsole on the arch side of the foot and a lighter, softer foam on the outside to maximize shock absorption. For underpronators, shoes that provide more cushioning and shock absorption can lessen the chance of stress-related injuries.
Keep in mind that no pair of shoes will automatically change your gait. To help correct any muscle imbalances that may be contributing to your pronation issues, you’ll often need foot-strengthening and mobility exercises as well.
The reassuring news: shoes that feel comfortable may be the best at reducing your risk of injury, according to a review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. In other words, regardless of how your foot pronates, to run your strongest, make sure your shoe feels good to you.