Pronation, or flattening of the foot, is associated with shin splints, Achilles Tendon pain, and maybe even plantar fasciitis, a nasty pain on the bottom of the foot. Over the years we have heard of the dangers of over-pronating, and having low arches. We are sold shoe inserts and orthotics to support our arches to correct this problem, along with a host of others.
I’m here to tell you today that we are overreacting. Yes, pronation is bad in excess. But its opposite, supination, is too: it’s associated with stress fractures, and a higher incidence of ankle sprains, which can cause chronic problems for the entire leg and even low back. Our foot moves in these two directions here, but one of these directions has been demonized; we seem to have forgotten how critical it is that we pronate our feet.
Pronation: The Shock Absorber
Think about it. If your foot didn’t flatten a little with the steps you take, it would be like wearing wooden shoes (or heels, but I won’t go there today…). Every step would be a rigid clunk! Think about the impact reverberating up your leg with every step. Having a little deformation of your foot with each step sounds a little better now, right? Your foot is built to act like a spring, that loads with every step and absorbs the shock, protecting the rest of the body. If our inner foot didn’t roll inward and flatten a little bit, this wouldn’t be possible.
Pronation: The Loaded Spring
Jump. Now. I mean it!
What did you do? Did you bend at the hips and knees before taking off? Did your feet flatten a little before you propelled upward?
You bet they did! You just did a little squat by bending your hips and knees, tipping your torso forward, and pronating your feet, before rapidly reversing everything (straightening your back, hips, and knees, and supinating your feet) as you propelled off the ground. Now try jumping without squatting and pronating first….see how that goes for you!
Ok Tim, what’s your point? The point is that as you recoiled in preparation to jump, you pronated your feet, loading the spring, and then when you took off, that spring unloaded all that stored energy and helped you take off. If the foot were rigid in the arch, there would be no spring loading, and little propulsion coming from your foot. (Instead, the hip and knee would have to do more of the work…and therefore be susceptible to things like Patellar tendonitis and piriformis syndrome).
This spring loading-and-releasing happens all the time, and we take it for granted. Every step you climb, every stride you take, you are pronating, then supinating, then pronating again. You literally have a spring in every step, lowering impact forces, and saving valuable energy with locomotion, thanks to our wonderful friend pronation!
So if you have low arches, but no pain, don’t sweat it. If you are in pain, orthotics may be helpful, but let’s not forget the importance of letting our feet and bodies move the way they were designed to.
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