Foot pronation is a hot topic on running forums. This oft-discussed, seemingly crippling disability results when your foot rolls inward more than the standard 15 degrees as you take a step, causing your ankle to appear to bend in. It has long been linked to increased injuries to the foot and ankle, particularly among active runners. However, the connection between foot pronation and injury has often been misrepresented in sports science articles and conversations.
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In truth, much of what we describe as overpronation is nothing more than a slightly exaggerated normal movement with no significant consequences. However, that doesn’t mean that actual overpronation doesn’t have long-term negative consequences on the wear and tear of the muscles and ligaments of the foot, and the science does suggest that treating serious overpronation can reduce injury and improve performance.
Its link to injury has been overstated
According to RunResearchJunkie, the scientific correlation between overpronation and injury is not particularly strong, and there is little evidence to prove the link. In fact, an extensive study done by Dutch scientists in 2013 found that runners who had neutral pronation actually had slightly higher rates of injuries than runners who overpronated. The study included 972 adults between 18 and 65, monitoring their running for a full year, including distance run and injuries developed.
In fact, even choosing shoes specifically designed to treat pronation did not decrease, but occasionally increased, the risk of injury for the runners involved. The study’s conclusion was that most degrees of overpronation are in fact regular aberrations that do not significantly affect performance or increase the risk of injury in any way.
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Treating it does improve performance
Although most degrees of overpronation are in fact harmless and concerns are exaggerated, there is a link between some cases of overpronation and overuse injuries caused by an increased load on the ligaments of the inner leg. As a result, there is a strong link between treating overpronation with foot orthotics and improvement of performance and decrease in injury.
Although the correlation between significance of injury and degree of overpronation is not exactly a straight line, there is nonetheless convincing evidence that many people can benefit from treating their overpronation, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to do so.
Whether you need treatment depends on key factors
There are countless potential causes of overpronation. How you treat it depends on your particular cause. According to RunResearchJunkie, treatment can include anything from strengthening your gluteal muscles to switching to barefoot running, to heel raising and muscle strengthening exercises along your calves and posterior in order to improve flexibility and address alignment difficulties.
As noted at docsports.com, running shoes are not likely to cure overpronation, and those seeking to treat the condition are not advised to rely on a particular shape shoe in order to do so. Instead, they should perform particular stretches, do strengthening exercises or use foot orthotics to treat the root problem of their overpronation.
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How supination affects performance
The less discussed sibling of overpronation is supination. This is when the foot does not fully roll in, instead striking the ground floor with its outer edge.
Supination injuries, although less common and less a topic of interest than overpronation injuries, also tend to be caused by overuse and excess pressure on the wrong muscles. Such injuries include shin splints, ankle sprains and stress fractures. Like overpronation, supination can be treated with orthotics, and the presence of supination does not necessarily mean you will develop or be prone to an injury.
The impact that overpronation has on running has generally been overstated. However, runners who supinate or overpronate and who find themselves prone to injury are encouraged to seek treatment, usually in the form of orthotics and exercises; and they should avoid overuse, which contributes to the risk of injury.
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