For years, you've been told pronation—when your foot flattens and rolls inward as it lands on the ground—is the enemy. It can cause running injuries in your legs and hips, they said, which is why you may have attempted to correct your stride, buy expensive shoe inserts like orthotics, and search for the best sneakers to support proper form. Myth-busting new research in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, however, claims pronation has been getting a bum rap.
Danish researchers divided 927 novice runners who didn't have any pre-existing injuries or running habits into groups based on their foot type: neutral pronation, overpronation, severe overpronation, underpronation, or severe underpronation. They observed participants in neutral shoes for one year, in which the runners collectively covered more than 203,000 miles.
Turns out those who had a pronation (under or over) were not more likely to develop a running injury than their counterparts who were in the neutral group, completely contradicting conventional runner's wisdom.
“I'm not shocked by the initial outcome of this study. I have seen a number of athletes at all levels who have not had any kind of correction of their pronation, and they've been relatively injury-free,” says long-time athletic trainer Ralph Reiff, executive director of St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis.
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Since everybody's running style is different, it should be treated individually, says Jennifer Solomon, M.D., a sports medicine physiatrist at Hospital for Special Surgery who has covered several sporting events including the New York City Marathon and tennis tournaments.
“Whether or not you get hurt depends on so many factors, not just your foot type. You have to look at core stability, strength, and your whole kinetic chain when picking out a running shoe,” she says. Which is why she and Reiff still recommend seeking professional help (i.e., running coaches, athletic trainers, sports medicine physicians, or trained specialists at running stores) when selecting your best sneakers and honing your skill.
“From experience, I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from people that addressing their pronation with inserts or certain shoes has helped them feel more comfortable and minimize pain while running,” Reiff says. It all comes down to whatever works for you is best—in other words, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you're planning to change your running routine, such as training for your first 10K, half, or marathon, you may start to notice tweaks and twinges that weren't there before. “When you increase the intensity of your running, it's good to fine-tune your technique and footwear,” Reiff says. “It's like taking your everyday car on a cross-country trip without preparing it for the long-haul—all of a sudden you'll have problems with the car that you never had before.”