Pronation Appreciation: Myth Busting For Runners

Little makes my blood boil more that standing in a running store listening to a conversation that starts like this:

“Well, you see sir, you pronate. So you need to buy…”

We All Pronate. Get Over It!

For many years the running community seems to have become fixated on one fundamental movement pattern, pronation of the foot.

Culturally, amongst runners the word ‘Pronation’ has developed many negative connotations. Some even seem to use the word as a pseudo-diagnosis, rather than as a description of a normal movement of the foot and ankle complex.

In human walking gait, it is the foot’s capacity to first pronate, then subsequently supinate, that enables efficient loading, then effective propulsion. Not to mention the fact that it’s this mobility of the many joints of the foot that enable us to adapt to the many varied terrains we run and walk across.

Throughout the load bearing phase of normal walking and running gait, the foot first pronates, moving through dorsiflexion, abduction and eversion. This causes the mid-tarsal joint to ‘unlock’, dropping the medial arch an creating a more mobile foot, ideal for accepting and dissipating load.

Subsequently, the foot plantarflexes, adducts and inverts to create supination. This motion ‘locks up’ mid-tarsal joint, creating a more prominent, stable and rigid medial arch. This supinated position makes the foot more rigid, enabling a propulsive push-off.

These motions are not only normal, they are vital. Limited pronation can be just as bad as excessive pronation.

What Is Excessive Pronation?

While the term ‘Over Pronation’ has been popularized in the analysis of foot movement and subsequent prescription of footwear. To date no scientific model has been backed up by solid research defining the optimal amount of pronation for a runner’s foot to display.

What am I getting at? Without a clear definition for a model of ‘normal’ pronation. How can we use the phrase over pronation with any contextual meaning?

My friend, and keen golfer, Ian Griffiths (Sports Podiatrist) explains this brilliantly: “Without any clear definition of how far a golfer needs to hit a shot… How can we possibly state whether he over or under hits the ball?!”

The simple fact of the matter is that the scientific community are yet to agree on a research-backed model which defines optimal dynamic movement of the foot.

Currently the most widely used model, presented by Root et. al., dates back to the early 1970s and is still the basis of modern running footwear development and medical practices. Interestingly though, across more recent studies, it’s evident that very few runners, both injured and injury free actually achieve the ‘normal’ foot posture as set out by Root et. al.

Pronation and Running Injuries

I find this bit really interesting…!

Despite common running wisdom suggesting that “runners who pronate more, get injured more frequently”. Numerous pieces of research suggest otherwise [1][2], many concluding that there is no significant correlation between foot posture type and running injuries. Training variables such as frequency, intensity and volume seem to be far more important in injury prevention.

That said, the jury is still out. Hopefully in years to come, with more research we’ll learn more about this subject.

Learn To Run Gently

There’s one quote from Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run that really sums my feelings up regarding footwear choices. To paraphrase, he says: “if you learn to run gently, you can run wearing whatever you like on your feet.”

I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. Running is a high impact sport, there’s no getting away from this fact. Some of us will invariably have feet which are more efficient and functionally capable than others.
If a runner has a foot which is less able to endure the rigors of running, due to it’s inherent anatomical structure and the soft tissues surrounding it. In my experience this runner can reduce risk of subsequent foot, shin, knee, hip, and back injuries by learning to run with a technique which reduces any excessive impact and loading.

I’m a big believer of the concept of Form Before Footwear. Not jumping on the Barefoot bandwagon – instead appreciating that runners can learn to run “gently” with good technique.

Once you learn to run gently, you can base your footwear choices on comfort. After all, there’s as much research backing that method of selection as any other – seriously!

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