How Your Level Of Pronation Affects You As A Runner
As a runner, you take thousands of strides a day. In an ideal world, you would land on your midfoot with your ankle perfectly in line with your heel and your knee. Your foot would roll just slightly inward (about 15 degrees) as it comes into complete contact with the ground, before you push off again and take your next stride. Pronation is a word to describe the inward "rolling" of your ankle as your foot comes into contact with the ground.
A tiny bit of pronation is considered ideal in a biomechanical sense, since this movement absorbs some of the impact and makes running easier on your joints. However, every runner's stride if different -- some overpronate, meaning that their ankles roll too far to the inside when they stride, while others underpronate, meaning that their ankles roll hardly at all, if any.
Consequences of Overpronation
Runners who overpronate tend to be prone to injuries of the joints and lower leg, such as runner's knee and shin splints, as well as general soreness and ankle pain after running. This is because too much pronation reduces shock absorption, making running much harder on the muscles, ligaments and tendons in the legs.
Consequences of Underpronation
Underpronation is less common in runners than overpronation, but it can also make runners more prone to injuries. Many underpronators suffer from tight Achilles tendons and plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the arch of the foot. Underpronation puts a lot of stress on the outside of the foot.
What's Your Level of Pronation?
Knowing your level of pronation can help you protect yourself against injuries as a runner. There are several ways to assess your level of pronation. One of the easiest is to look at the bottoms of a pair of running shoes you've been wearing for a while. Are they worn more towards the outsides? Then, you're underpronating. If they're worn more towards the insides, you're overpronating, and if they're worn evenly from side to side, you have a neutral stride (which is ideal).
If you don't have a worn pair of shoes around for reference, have a friend watch you as you run away from him or her. The ideal amount of pronation, which is a 15-degree inward rolling of the ankle, is very slight and hardly detectable. If your friend can visibly see your ankles bending inward as you run, you're probably overpronating. On the other hand, if your friend thinks you look like you're running on the outside of your feet, you're likely underpronating. Keep an eye on the wear pattern on your shoes over your next few weeks of running to validate this conclusion.
Addressing Underpronation or Overpronation
If you're a new runner, your stride is likely to improve as you begin training more regularly. Sight under or overpronation may correct itself as the muscles and connective tissues in your leg become stronger. Moderate to severe pronation issues, however, should be corrected to prevent overuse injuries.
The most popular way to correct pronation issues is to buy shoes designed specifically for runners with these common gait issues. Shoes labeled "stability" are designed for runners who overpronate. This is a very common problem, so you'll find many stability shoes in your local running store. Underpronation is much less common, so you'll have a harder time finding shoes to correct this gait abnormality. Look for a flexible, "neutral" shoe with a soft midsole, as this will make it easier for your foot to roll inward as you stride. If you are a severe over or underpronator, you may wish to seek the help of a podiatrist to design special orthotics you can place in your shoes to correct your stride.
Under or over-pronation may only cause mild ankle soreness in low-mileage runners, but if you're thinking of increasing your mileage, these are problems you should address beforehand. Failing to do so leaves you prone to a host of injuries, which may leave you sidelined instead of at the starting line.