Overpronation vs. Underpronation: What’s The Difference And Why Does It Matter?

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Figuring out your pronation type—the way your foot rolls inwards as you land to distribute your weight—is something every runner should do.

Overpronation is when your foot rolls inwards excessively. Underpronation – often called supination – is when your foot rolls outward.

Once you know how your foot moves, you can anticipate possible injuries and find the right shoes or inserts for support.

Most runners—60 to 80 percent—overpronate to some degree. Underpronation is less common, but both can cause issues like pain, joint stress, and foot conditions over time.

In this article, we’re comparing the two so you can find your pronation type, understand what kind of injuries you may be susceptible to, and discover how to choose the right shoes for your foot.

What is Overpronation?

When we’re talking about pronation – not over or under – we mean an inward roll of about 15 degrees from when your foot lands to when you push off.

Overpronation is when your foot rolls inwards more than 15 degrees or when your arch “collapses” inwards. It can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Why It’s a Concern

Pronating more than normal can strain your feet and lower legs. Over-rotation of your foot can cause your joints to move out of their usual range of motion. It also reduces the shock-absorbing abilities of your arch.

Your feet take up to 4 times your body weight when you’re running, so added shock on weakened or unstable joints are at a much higher risk of injury if overpronation isn’t addressed.

If you’re trying to run faster, improve your cadence, or gain more stamina, unaddressed overpronation will also set you back. Your feet have to move through a wider range of motion than they should, so more energy goes into every stride than there needs to be.

Your running won’t be as efficient if your feet aren’t properly supported for your pronation type, both due to increased risk of injury and a less efficient stride.

Potential Injuries

When you overpronate, you are more likely to develop tendonitis in your feet or shin splints since your tendons take on an extra load. The over-rotation movement can extend to the knee, making you more susceptible to knee injuries.

Overpronation also puts extra stress on the ball of your foot, especially the big toe joint. Your foot rolls over that joint with more force than usual, so you may have a higher risk of developing metatarsalgia, sesamoiditis, or bunions.

What is Underpronation (Supination)?

Underpronation or supination is the opposite of overpronation—instead of your foot rolling inwards more than 15 degrees, it rolls towards the outer edge of your foot.

It’s usually mild or moderate, not often severe, unless it results from a structural defect in the feet or legs or a neurological condition.

Why It’s a Concern

When you supinate, your arch absorbs less shock because the foot almost immediately rolls onto the outer edge of your foot. All the impact is taken on by the bones and tissues on the lateral side of your foot.

Not only can this make you more likely to get injured, but like overpronation, it reduces your running efficiency. You’ll end up pushing off more with your outer toes, so you’re missing out on the power from your big toe during push-off.

Potential Injuries

Underpronators can also suffer from injuries similar to overpronators. The excess movement of the ankle to the outside of your foot increases the chance of twisting your ankle and damaging the joints and tendons.

Supinators may also be more at risk of developing shin splints. The tendons running along the shin can be stretched or strained due to the unusual movement of the foot. You can also risk developing plantar fasciitis, as the thick band of tissue may be prone to overstretching during each step.

How to Determine If You Overpronate or Underpronate

You can tell if you overpronate or underpronate by doing some quick tests at home. Even better, go to a running store and they will help you determine whether you over- or underpronate and recommend some shoes ideal for your gait. You can also go to a podiatrist for a professional gait analysis.

Wet Foot Test

Get a piece of cardboard big enough to stand on both feet. Place it on a flat ground with a hard surface—a wooden or tiled floor would be perfect.

Wet your feet and then step onto the cardboard. Stand for a few seconds, naturally, and then step off again. You should see two wet footprints on the cardboard.

If your footprints have a large dry patch underneath where your arch is and just a sliver of wet on the outsides, you most likely have high arches and supination.

But if the footprint is almost entirely filled with very little dry space under the arch, you probably have flat feet and overpronate.

An equal wet and dry area on the footprint indicates that you have a neutral foot.

Wear Pattern on Shoes

Once you’ve done the wet foot test, we advise checking the wear pattern on your shoes to back up your findings on the cardboard. Neutral runners should see equal wear on their outsoles’ medial and lateral sides.

Overpronators are likely to see more wear on the inner side of the shoe, especially in the forefoot under the big toe. Underpronators will see more wear and tear on the outer edge of the shoe.

Professional Gait Analysis

Any good running store will check your gait and let you know whether you overpronate or underpronate. They can also recommend certain shoes to support your feet. A podiatrist and some physical therapists can also do the same. Just expect an upsell on shoes or inserts at a running store, and orthotics from a podiatrist.

Can Overpronation or Underpronation Be Fixed?

If your overpronation or underpronation is caused by being overweight, losing weight can make a big difference.

But in most cases, overpronation and underpronation can’t be “fixed”, because it’s usually a result of the structure of your feet. However, it can be managed by finding ways to hold your feet in a neutral position rather than allowing them to pronate.

Choose the Right Shoes or Inserts

As we mentioned, footwear is the easiest and quickest change to make that can reduce any problems you might be suffering from excessive pronation.

If you aren’t in a position to buy new running shoes, you might want to consider inserts or orthotics.

Inserts are sold over-the-counter and can fit in most shoes. A podiatrist can create a custom orthotic for you. They’ll mold it directly off your foot, so you know you’ll get the perfect support.

Custom orthotics are more expensive, but they tend to last longer than over-the-counter inserts and provide better support.

Strengthen Foot and Leg Muscles

Although strengthening your foot and leg muscles won’t fix overpronation or underpronation, it can help you to improve your running form and stronger muscles provide better support.

It’s wise to incorporate foot and leg exercises into your workout routine as a runner anyway, but definitely worthwhile if you want to protect against injury caused by excessive pronation.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.