Pronation is the term for the foot’s natural rolling motion as weight is transferred from the heel to the toes when you walk or run. Your feet are designed to move subtly from side to side with each part of the foot kicking in to do its part in propelling your body forward. If you’ve ever watched someone walk and noticed that their feet turn a little more inward or outward than other people, you’re noticing pronation in their gait.
Supination occurs when the foot rolls too far outward in the course of stepping. It’s also known as underpronation, which is the opposite of the overpronation that is common for people with flat feet. Supination can lead to pain and other physical problems over time, so it’s important to understand how it works and what you can do about it.
This guide will introduce you to how supination works as well as the most common causes and treatment options. We’ll also discuss how you can tell if you have supination issues, so let’s get started.
Understanding Supination – How it Works
It’s important to understand how the foot normally works when you take a step. That will make it easier to understand what’s happening when your feet supinate. The basic walking process with normal pronation goes like this:
Did you notice that the arch of the foot is involved in half of those steps? It’s actually involved in the full process, supporting the foot, stabilizing the body, and cushioning to absorb impact. When your feet supinate or underpronate, they depend more on the outside edge of the foot and place more strain on the all-important arch.
The feet naturally roll a little outward as the heel comes up and body weight transitions to the toes and starts to push off the ground. Supination is a more pronounced roll outward that forces the outward toes to do the push-off more than the big toe and second toe.
Supination Vs. Overpronation
Overpronation is the opposite of supination. It occurs when the feet roll too far inward as the foot rolls from heel to toe. While supination places more strain on the outward toes, overpronation places too much stress on the big and second toes. They’re both pronation problems that can lead to pain and other discomforts over time.
How to Know if Supination is a Problem for You
Simply looking at your shoes is the best way to determine your pronation pattern. You can do this right now, but it’s not as concrete as having a professional analyze your feet and look at your walking stride.
Start by gathering one or two pairs of shoes that you often wear. Pick athletic shoes or other footwear that you wear at least several times a week and that aren’t brand new. The more worn, the better for this analysis.
Set the shoes on a table with the heels pointed at you. Sit next to the shoes and notice if they lean more to one side or the other. The following list will help you determine if overpronation or supination are potential problems for your feet.
What you’re looking at is excessive wear to one part of the shoe. When you supinate or overpronate, your feet push down excessively on the outside or inner portion of the shoe. Over time, that breaks that part of the shoe down and creates that lean. Even a subtle lean may hint that your feet are pushing too far outward or inward when you walk.
Other Signs of Supination
What Causes Supination?
Supination is often a genetic condition. If you ask other members of your family about their gaits, you may discover that you get this problem naturally due to the way your feet are structured.
There are some other potential causes and contributing factors, including:
A lot of these potential causes are lifestyle factors that you can control. Even if you have a genetic predisposition, you may find that changing some of these factors helps improve the discomforts caused by supination.
The Dangers of Long-Term Supination
You may never experience any pain or discomfort from short-term supination that comes from wearing unsupportive shoes for special occasions or short periods of time. The problems arise when you continue to supinate for an extended period of time. Let’s look at some of the long-term consequences that may arise.
Supination puts more stress on the ankles and can lead to pain or frequent sprains. If you’re always the most likely person to roll an ankle even when walking in comfortable flats, you should consider your tendency towards supination.
Outer Edge & Toe Problems
The outer edges of your feet may develop calluses, bunions, and other skin-level issues if you supinate regularly. You may also develop hammer toes or experience regular bunions and calluses on the edge of your toes.
Plantar fasciitis is the result of stress and strain on a thick band of tissue known as the plantar fascia. That tissue connects your heel to your toes and is critical to the process of walking or running comfortably and safely. When inflammation develops in that band of tissue due to excessive stress, the heel starts hurting when you walk.
You may notice pain from plantar fasciitis mostly when you first get up in the morning or after any extended period of sitting still. The plantar fascia contracts and tightens when you’re at rest and then stretches as you put body weight down on your foot.
You can develop plantar fasciitis without supination. It’s best to work with a professional if you experience this condition and suspect your pronation issues are at least partially responsible.
Lower Body Injuries
You may develop frequent shin splints and stress fractures in the lower body if you supinate regularly. The injuries are the result of chronic stress and strain on muscles, joints, and ligaments in the knees, calves, ankles, and all parts of the foot.
There are other things that can cause these injuries. Working with a professional is best if you’re prone to shin splints and fractures.
Lower Body Fatigue
Your feet may get tired quickly when you walk or run if supination is a problem. You may also notice weakness or fatigue in your knees, calves, and ankles.
How Do You Fix Supination?
Fixing overpronation starts with a foot evaluation from a podiatrist or physical therapist with supination experience. They may analyze your gait and look at your shoes or wet footprints in addition to simply looking at your feet and discussing the symptoms you’re currently experiencing.
From there, you can develop a personalized treatment plan that targets the suspected causes of your supination. Let’s look at some of the most common supination treatment options so that you understand your options.
Shoe Upgrades & Orthotics
Your shoes are the primary support for your feet when you walk or run. If you know supination is an issue, make sure you’re wearing shoes that aren’t so worn out they’ve lost their built-in support. You want to select shoes that have adequate cushioning and arch support in addition to making sure they fit properly.
You can also add orthotics to your shoes to improve the arch and overall support. Working with a podiatrist is essential to ensure you select insoles with the support in the right places. In some cases, orthotics that lift the heel will help as well as arch support.
Don’t wear the same shoes for exercise, work, and other activities. That puts unnecessary strain on the shoes, allowing them to break down faster. You may also need different orthotics for everyday wear and exercise.
Correct Posture & Form
Make sure you’re holding your body in proper form during exercise as well as when sitting in a chair at work or just walking down the street. The way you control your upper body is a significant factor in the amount of stress endured by the lower body when you’re in motion. The better your posture and form, the more you reduce unnecessary stress on your ankles and feet.
Stretch & Strengthen Lower Body Muscles
Exercise is an important element to keep your body strong and healthy. Your workout routine should incorporate stretches for your feet and strengthening exercises for your lower body. The best way to identify exercises that will work for your body is to consult with a podiatrist, physical therapist, or another professional with supination experience.
In some extreme cases, a foot doctor may recommend physical therapy for more formal guidance in correcting supination. Surgery isn’t typically required, but working with a physical therapist may help you understand how to correct your form and improve your gait quickly.