By Rehan Iqbal
Your feet naturally move from one side to another as you walk, run, jump, and bend. This subtle movement is known as pronation and is your body’s creative way of keeping your body stable as you move. If you watch other people walk, you can see their pronation patterns in the natural rhythm of their gait.
When the feet roll too far outward or inward with each step, pronation issues can lead to problems down the line. That’s why it’s important to understand what overpronation and underpronation or supination are, especially if you have flat feet.
We’ll talk more about flat feet and overpronation in just a moment. Let’s start with a discussion of how overpronation works, what causes it, and how you can tell if you have pronation issues.
Understanding Overpronation – How it Works
To understand how overpronation works, you first need a general understanding of normal foot mechanics. The following process is what happens when someone with normal pronation walks:
Notice the importance of the arch in that process. It has several important jobs to keep the body stable. First, it flattens out a little and absorbs shock. Then it stiffens and provides support as the toes push off.
When someone who overpronates walks, the foot hits the ground on the outer edge of the heel and then rolls too far inward as weight transfers from the back of the foot to the toes. Instead of a slight roll outward, there is a more pronounced inward, downward roll from the ankle. The arch doesn’t do its job of stiffening and supporting, so the big toe and second toe bear a lot of pressure while trying to push off to complete the step.
Overpronation causes the sole of the foot to twist a little, so it doesn’t face straight back as the toes push off the ground. Let’s talk briefly about underpronation, also known as supination, just to ensure you have a complete understanding of pronation.
Overpronation vs. Underpronation
Underpronation is the opposite of overpronation. It occurs when the feet roll too far outward as weight transfers from the heel to the toes. That outward roll prevents the big and second toes from assuming control, leaving the remaining three toes and outer edges of the feet to push the foot off the ground.
How to Know if You Overpronate
The best way to assess pronation at home is to put a pair of well-worn shoes on the table. Turn the back of the shoe toward you. Use the following list to determine if you may have an issue with overpronation or supination:
This often works because the inner or outer part of the shoe will receive more wear and tear if you underpronate or overpronate. While you may get solid clues by analyzing the tilt of the shoes you wear most often, you need an official assessment from a medical professional to know with certainty that you have pronation issues.
You may also suspect overpronation is an issue if you identify any of the following symptoms on a regular basis:
There are many other things that can cause most of these symptoms. If you struggle with some of these problems regularly, it’s time to work with a professional to determine the cause. If overpronation is contributing or the sole cause, you can work to improve your gait and relieve the discomfort.
What Causes Overpronation?
Flat feet or even slightly flattened arches are one of the primary causes of overpronation. You may also develop this problem with your gait due to excessive body weight bearing down on your ankles and feet. That’s why pregnancy and obesity are common factors that can contribute to the development of overpronation.
Some people may also start to overpronate as a result of walking or running on hard surfaces for extended periods of time. In some cases, the cause of overpronation is never known. Identifying the cause can help when developing a treatment plan, but it isn’t necessary to receive treatment from a professional.
Overpronation and Flat Feet
Does overpronation mean flat feet? Are they the same thing? These questions are common when people are trying to understand overpronation. The short answer is no, they aren’t the same thing.
Many people with flat feet overpronate, but not all. You can also overpronate with healthy arches.
Overpronation is more common with flat feet because there are no arches to stiffen and support the toes on the push-off from the ground. If you do have arches and overpronate, then your arches aren’t fully functioning as they should, pushing more of the pressure to the toes.
Dangers of Long-Term Overpronation
Overpronation can lead to a lot of pain and discomfort. It can also lead to no discomfort or pain at all. If you have flat feet or suspect you overpronate, it’s important to understand what the potential dangers are in the long term. That understanding will help you determine when you need to seek professional help to stop future discomfort and pain.
Lower Body and Foot Fatigue
If you don’t start out with flat feet, overpronating over time can cause your arches to flatten and stop functioning as they should. Without a properly functioning arch, the foot must put out a lot more energy and effort to push the body forward. That often leads to fatigue that is felt in the foot, ankle, calves, and knees. Those body parts all endure excessive stress and can break down over time due to wear and tear.
You may feel less stable as you move. That instability leaves you vulnerable to injuries caused by slips and falls. You may also wobble or knock into things as your body tries to stabilize and move without the support of functional arches.
Lower Body Pain
It’s common for people with overpronation to ignore the issue or not even realize it’s a problem until they start to experience pain. The added stress on the lower body can lead to muscle overuse and pain in the hips, calves, ankles, and feet.
That pain often sets in over time as overpronation continues to stress the lower body as you move through daily life. With time, the pain can interfere with your quality of life if the problem is not properly treated.
Shoes Breaking Down Quicker
Finally, you may spend a lot of money replacing footwear if you overpronate. Remember the test we told you about earlier? If you see excessive wear on the outer or inner part of your shoes, you’re looking at a big financial problem in addition to physical issues.
Your shoes will break down faster, leaving you with less support and more risk for achy feet at the end of a long day. You then spend more money investing in new shoes, which will also break down much faster than expected.
How Do You Fix Overpronation?
Fixing overpronation starts with a foot evaluation from a medical professional with pronation and gait experience. They will evaluate all of the following as a starting point:
If there are other medical or physical problems that may contribute to your current symptoms, your provider will help you address those issues. If pronation is the sole cause or a contributing cause, then you will receive a personalized treatment plan to correct the way your foot strikes the ground during movement.
Common Treatments for Overpronation
If you’re overweight or obese, you may help your feet by losing the excess weight. That’s a lot easier to say than do, but you can work with medical professionals or coaches to make healthy exchanges in your diet. For instance, you may switch to whole grains or substitute fresh fruits for sugary treats. Anything you can do to maintain a healthy body weight can help with pronation issues by reducing stress on your lower body.
Even that may not completely fix pronation issues, so you may still need help for a professional. Let’s look briefly at some of the most common overpronation treatment options.
Adding orthotics to your shoes is another way to ensure you have the right support to improve the functioning of the arch area. You may also find shoes with insoles far more comfortable if you stand on your feet or move on hard surfaces for extended periods.
Exercise won’t correct overpronation, but it can strengthen the foot and help you overcome some of the discomfort caused by pronation issues. There are some simple bodyweight exercises and stretches that you can add to your workout routine to focus more on pronation and foot health. Heel stretches and toe raises are a great place to start, and you don’t need great physical fitness to do those moves.
You can take over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen for pain and inflammation. Ice therapy can also help with physical discomforts that come from overpronation. If you experience repeat bunions, calluses, and other physical symptoms, a professional can help you with effective treatment options to improve your comfort quickly.
Physical Therapy or Surgery
In severe cases, your provider may recommend physical therapy and/or surgery to correct issues with your feet that are contributing to overpronation and possibly other issues.