Until you have a problem with your feet, you may not realize just how essential these weight bearing miracles are. One common condition that can be a huge wake-up call is foot overpronation, also known as “flat feet” or “fallen arches.”
Overpronation can increase your chances of injury, as well as painfully affect other joints in your body when you move.
What is Pronation?
Pronation is the natural movement of the foot in an inward motion.
This helps distribute the forces of impact as your foot hits the ground, supporting your body weight so you don’t fall.1,2
For normal arches, pronation is shock absorption, plain and simple. But problems can arise when your feet start to underpronate or overpronate.
Underpronation (also known as oversupination) occurs when your foot doesn’t roll inward enough when your heel hits the ground. So, if you underpronate, you may walk or run more on the outside of your foot.
With underpronation, there is very little flattening of the foot’s arches. Unfortunately, that’s where your foot’s shock absorbers, or cushions, are located. Underpronating can place a lot of stress on your feet, knees, and hips – and on ankle joint stability.
If you’re an underpronator, you may not experience any discomfort. But the chances are that you will if you start training more heavily or run longer distances.3
When you overpronate, your foot rolls much further inward than it should after your heel strikes the ground. Picture your big toe and second toe doing much of the work to push off from the ground, rather than all of your toes.
Just like with underpronation, when you overpronate, your foot doesn’t get optimal shock absorption.
Overpronators may be more likely to have flat feet (pes planus). This is because the arch elongates and “collapses” as the foot hits the ground at this angle. This can lead to extra stress and tightness in the muscles connected to the feet and a host of other injuries.4
Why Do I have Overpronated Feet?
Overpronation is caused by your own biomechanics. Often, you’re just born with a greater susceptibility for flat feet. But weight gain (including pregnancy) or other structural weaknesses, can also cause you to overpronate.
Generally speaking, foot overpronation begins in either the feet or the hips. If the feet are to blame, it’s because the bones of your foot roll inward too much.
If hip instability is the cause, the real blame can often be traced to weak glutes (your butt muscles). Weak glutes create weak hip stability, which then causes the legs and feet to roll inwards.5
How Do I Know If I Overpronate?
Stand barefoot in front of a mirror (or get someone to snap a picture of you), and ask yourself these questions:
- Do your feet appear “flat?” Can you stick your finger between the ground and your arch easily? If not, they’re collapsed.
- Do your ankle bones lean inward, with the most pressure over your big toe?
- Do your knees lean inwards? If your knees lean inward, there’s a high chance that those butt muscles are to blame.
Now, check your athletic shoes. Do they show wear on the inside edges of both the heels and the balls of the feet? If so, you may overpronate.6
You can also have a professional video gait analysis performed by a physical therapist or foot specialist. This will help them to analyze your gait cycle – the way that you flow through your range of movement while walking or running. Analyzing your gait will determine if you overpronate.
How Does Overpronation Affect Other Joints?
Now, the greatest issue with overpronation is that it can affect other joints. It also puts stress on connective tissue, tendons, and ligaments –– opening you up to pain and injuries.
Movement is one big chain of events. Each movement is connected to the one before and after it. This is what’s known as the kinetic chain. Given how many steps you take each day, if the kinetic chain is off, the wear and tear of overpronation can take a toll.
It can affect your:
- Big toe (bunions)
- Other toes (corns, calluses, hammertoes, and fractures)
- Heels (plantar fasciitis heel) or heel bones (heel spurs)
- Achilles tendon
- Subtalar joint (where the tibia and fibula meet the foot)
- Posterior tibial tendon (where the calf muscle attaches to the bones of the foot)
- Shins (shin splints)
- Calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus muscles)
- Knees (eg. knee pain caused by your kneecap also rolling inward)
- Lower back and posture7
What Can Help Overpronation?
Many people can find long term relief from foot overpronation. The most common choice of action is to wear orthotic insoles, though there are exercises that may help.8
Custom orthotic insoles slip easily into your walking and running shoes and act as arch supports. You’ll want to talk to a professional, like a podiatrist, to get custom orthotics made exactly to your own foot mechanics.
Orthotics help prevent your foot from overpronating when you run or walk. They should be fairly rigid, but comfortable.9 Keep in mind that they may take a few weeks to become comfortable as your feet adjust to them.
A good physical or foot therapist may also recommend strengthening exercises to help with your foot overpronation.
These exercises are aimed at strengthening your inner legs, ankles, hips, outer legs, and glutes. If these muscles are strong, they can help to stop your foot from rolling too far inwards.10,11
Motion Control Athletic Shoes
There are also now shoes on the market known as motion control athletic shoes. These shoes are built specifically for runners who suffer from overpronation. They’re also built with arch support in mind.
Foot Overpronation – It’s More Common Than You Think!
Foot overpronation is exceptionally common, so there are a lot of people walking around with very stressed feet. If you feel pain while walking or running, and tend to feel sore afterward, it’s worth consulting with a foot specialist.
What you thought was a hip injury may very well be your feet crying out for attention!
If you’re diagnosed with foot overpronation, know that there are many ways to find relief, and that this doesn’t need to affect your daily life or your exercise goals.
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