What is pronation?
Pronation refers to the action of the foot when we walk or run. There's a few things going on during this process, but the overall outcome and a simple explanation is that the foot lands on the outside of the heel and rolls inwards onto the arch of the foot and then we push off with the big toe. We've written a couple of blogs recently regarding gait analysis and shoe selection and we've talked about pronation during those posts.
Why is pronation such a bad word?
In recent years as shoe companies have developed different types of shoes to suit different types of runners, pronation has developed a bit of a bad name for itself. There are several injuries which can be linked to excessive inwards movement of the foot, but based on that, many people believe that pronation should be stopped at all costs. Here's the thing, pronation isn't the devil it's made out to be and just because your foot rolls inwards, you should automatically be wearing shoes or inserts to prevent it. If the movement is causing issues / injury, then there may be a case, but it's not always your first port of call.
What are the benefits of pronation?
One of the simple benefits of pronation is shock absorbancy. As your foot strikes the ground, the inwards rolling on the foot allows the dispersion of energy, thereby reducing the shock you feel. Often people who wear very supporting shoes and / or inserts report that they feel hard / unresponsive and this may be attributed to the fact that you are preventing the natural use of the arch to absorb impact in a natural way.
Energy return and propulsion
I've watched some of the greatest long distance runners in the world on TV and it's common to see a huge amount of inwards roll upon impact. The extent of which, would see most 'gait analysis staff' break out into a heavy sweat and reach for an anti-pronation shoe with an added insert! One of the most noticeable things about the foot movement is not the excessive inwards roll upon impact, but the manner in which the foot then 'springs back' in the opposite direction to give propulsion.
The muscles which control / slow pronation can use stored energy in an elastic / plyometric manner. The excessive inwards movement is therefore followed by a 'rebound' action to create propulsion. The ability to store and generate energy in such a way is governed by individual tendon structure and it generally deteriorates with age as tendons lose elasticity, so maybe this is something which us older runners will struggle with. If you wear support shoes and inserts which reduce pronation, then to some extent you will risk losing this elastic energy and therefore run slower!
Let's all pronate as much as possible!!
That's not quite what I'm saying.. but the point I am making is that pronation is not necessarily a bad thing. Some running shops and podiatrists conducting gait analysis, upon identifying that a runner pronates, make the snap judgement that the runner requires an 'anti-pronation shoe' or an insert. It would be wrong to make such assumptions and will have a potentially negative impact upon performance and comfort. However, those with specific injuries related to excessive inwards movement, may well benefit and maximise their running time by choosing an 'anti-pronation shoe' or an insert.
Some things to consider
1. If a runner has no injury history (in particular lower limb) and they visit a shop to be told that they pronate and should therefore wear anti-pronation shoes, that should be seriously questioned!
2. Based on age and tendon structure/health (varies each individual), some runners will be capable of pronating excessively and rarely suffer injury as a consequence.
3. If you have an injury which is caused by pronation / eversion (inwards rolling) your first port of call should be rehab and conditioning so the tissues can handle the movement, store elastic energy and provide propulsion. Don't instantly take the easy option and purchase inserts. If your injury is chronic, there will be cases where inserts are necessary as this is your only option to continue enjoying running.
4. Your personal objectives should be taken into account. If you consider yourself a 'racer' then that's very different to someone who runs infrequently to keep fit. For example, if you run to keep fit and a support shoe / insert keep the niggles and injuries at bay, then it's probably the easy option as you are less concerned about performance.
We have sports injury specialists and a qualified podiatrist amongst our staff, if you have any queries or comments, add them below this post on our Facebook page and we'll do our best to help! If you'd like to come and see us for a new pair of shoes, call 01257 251217, we'd love to hear from you.
The Endurance Store