Foot Pronation vs. Foot Supination: An Overview

The direction of your feet as you stand, walk, or run has a significant impact on your gait and weight distribution. A normal gait is balanced, but many people have either a pronated or supinated gait. Either can cause uneven pressure during movement and lead to pain and injuries.

What are foot pronation and supination?

Both terms refer to the way that the foot is angled and how your weight is distributed. Supination means that your weight is mostly on the outside of your foot as you move. Pronation means that your weight tends more toward the inside of your foot.

Issues caused by supination 

When you have excess supination, it causes stress on the outer side of your foot. Shoes will show uneven wear, with more wear on the outer edge of the sole. This sort of stride causes strain on your ankles. Over time, this can lead to calluses, bunions on the outer side of the foot, pain in your heels and the balls of your feet, and shin splints.

Issues caused by pronation

Excess pronation, on the other hand, means that your foot rolls toward the inside as you walk. The arch of your foot tends to flatten out. Your shoes will show uneven wear, with greater wear on the inner edge of the sole. People who overpronate may experience pain in their arches, heels, ankles, shins, knees, hips and back.

In both cases, you weight isn't distributed properly and your foot can't adapt properly to the surfaces you are walking or running on. This means that the surrounding tendons, muscles and bones have to work differently. Over time, this puts excess pressure on parts of your body that include the knees, calves, hips and back. Injuries can be a result.

What causes foot pronation and supination?

Most sufferers of both these conditions are simply born with feet that either pronate or supinate. This can be the result of arches that are too high or leg lengths that are uneven.

In some cases, however, these conditions can be the result of injury. Overuse injuries and chronic damage from walking or standing on hard surfaces for long lengths of time can cause orientation of the foot to change. Pregnancy and obesity can also lead to overpronation.

How can I tell if my feet pronate or supinate?

A foot professional can analyze your gait to tell you more about whether your gait is neutral, or you are putting excess pressure on either side of your foot. However, you can generally tell by looking at the back of your foot and leg, your heel, ankle and knee – they should form a straight line. Your weight should be balanced as you move. During a proper, healthy stride, your foot rolls forward from heel to toe, with your foot at a neutral orientation.

Variations from a normal stride put excess pressure on parts of your foot. You may be able to see from wear on your shoes that your gait is uneven. Look for areas on the bottom of your shoes that are worn down more than other parts.

Should I see a foot doctor?

It's important to have your gait assessed if you are a runner who experiences pain as it may be due to excess pronation or supination. When left untreated, it can cause injuries that include heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis and ankle sprains. A physical therapist can create stretching and exercise routines for you to do at home. Over time, these can help strengthen and support your feet to achieve a more neutral gait.

The right shoes for your gait

In some cases, the wrong shoes can be the cause of your supination or pronation. Wearing shoes that are rigid and tight can throw off your gait. Athletic shoe experts can help you pick the shoes that will support your feet properly and compensate for irregularities in your gait.

People who have excess pronation or supination need shoes that provide good cushioning and ample toe room. If you have excess supination, look for shoes with good flexibility, cushioning and support in the heel. This helps balance the outward roll of your foot.

If you have excess pronation, a more supportive and stable shoe with heel cushioning and a firm midsole can help. In some cases, orthotics may be needed to help correct your gait. Your doctor can recommend inserts or orthotic shoes. At Pedestal Footwear, we have years of experience helping customers choose shoes that support their feet for better comfort and performance.