Understanding Pronation and Supination (and How That Relates to Overcoming Plantar Fasciitis)

If you move as much as most people, in your lifetime you’ll exceed 100,000 miles (i.e., 160934.4 km).

Regardless of what system you use to measure the distance that you’ve traveled on foot, the number that you just read isn’t accounting for how far you’ve been able to run on planet Earth.

To put how important your feet are into perspective, 100,000 miles is a rough estimate of how many miles you’ll walk in your lifetime.

In order to cover that many miles on foot, all of that ground is going to be covered with motions that were given to you at birth.

Motions that occur in many more places than what your feet allow for.

Pronation and supination are not motions that are isolated to your feet.

Pronation and supination are motions that take place throughout all of the joints in your body (e.g., knees).

<figure><img src="https://www.engagingmuscles.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Infant-Foot-Adult-Hand.jpg" alt="Infant Foot Adult Hand" width="600" Height="450" /></figure>

Photo Credit: a paulchu shot Flickr via Compfight <a

When push comes to shove, the amount of arch you had at such an early age didn’t matter.

(Priorities)

When your bare feet came in complete contact with the ground for the very first time, it was motions and muscles that were responsible for propelling you forward.

In other words, prior to taking those first few steps, you didn’t have anybody to tell you that you were over-pronating.

And your feet still had to take advantage of all the motions that pronation and supination allow for.

In order to cover all of those 100,000 miles over your lifetime, your feet have to be capable of heading in the direction that gravity is going to pull you.  Motions that take place in this direction are called pronation or triple flexion.

In other words, in order to absorb shock at the right time, your entire skeleton has to go through a series of motions that are referred to as pronation. (Notice, I didn’t mention that your foot is working alone to absorb shock, i.e., pronation.  And for good reason!  Instead, I said it’s your entire skeleton that’s responsible for absorbing shock.)

Truth be told, pronation is about a lot more than having a built-in ability to absorb shock.

The golf swing is a great example of that.

To say all of what you just read in a completely different way, if your skeleton wasn’t capable of allowing for pronation and supination, your muscles wouldn’t be capable of storing the amount of elastic energy that’s required to display the kind of power that’s shown here.

<figure><img src="https://www.engagingmuscles.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Jordan-Spieth-Golfing.jpg" alt="Jordan Spieth Golfing" width="600" Height="436" /></figure>

Photo Credit: Judd Helms Flickr via Compfight cc

Without the ability to store elastic energy via our skeleton’s ability to pronate and supinate, a professional golfer wouldn’t be capable of launching a golf ball upwards of 280 yards on every drive.

Using the golf swing as an example, when your arms and the golf club take your skeleton for a ride, on one side, pronation of your foot is occurring from the top-down.

From there, it’s your muscles that are responsible for generating enough internal force to pull that same foot against the constant pull of gravity, i.e., supination.

Whenever your feet are interacting with the ground, any motions that go against the pull of gravity are called supination.

This ability to generate enough internal force to overcome gravity at the right time comes down to your muscles’ ability to shorten at the right time.

Which means that when you have *stability* throughout all of the motions that go along with pronation, your ability to come out of those positions is determined by the amount of *stability* that you have in the opposite direction.  And vice versa.

Even though you haven’t heard this side of the story, like it or not, gravity hasn’t changed its ways.

Since gravity is still pulling in the same direction that it did yesterday, that would mean that the ground is pushing back at your feet in the same direction that it always has.

The rub: Once you take the path of having a pair of orthotics pushing up into your arches from below, it’s not possible for your feet to pronate or supinate at the right time.

When your feet are unable to pronate at the right time from the bottom-up, that means the bones that are stacked on top of your feet can’t either (e.g., knees).

And let’s not forget about what those orthotics are doing to your lower back from the bottom-up and the top-down. All of those forces and motions have to go somewhere.

Which means that in order for your body to adapt to all of the different ways that orthotics drive your feet in the wrong direction at the wrong time, any region of your body ends up being fair game.

There’s more than one reason why billions of dollars are spent on back pain every year.

Although you might not have put this much thought into human movement before, nonetheless, the timing of how and when the bones throughout your skeleton go through pronation and supination determines the amount of power you can generate.

(Principles)

If you haven’t seen this 10-second video of a right-handed golfer, he tries to hit a golf ball while standing on a sheet of ice.  The way it turns out speaks volumes as to how important the environment underneath your feet really is.

Applying Physics to What You Just Watched:

Under normal conditions, this right-handed golfer’s left foot would pronate.

Which is only possible when the same side of his body is pronating or driving motion from the top-down.

At the same time that the left side of his body is going through the motions of pronation, his right side is going through all of the motions that would go along with supination.

Since a sheet of ice doesn’t allow for the friction that the ground on a golf course provides, both of his feet end up going in the same direction.  (Which means that in anatomical terminology, his feet are heading in opposite directions.)

So even though his left foot still took advantage of some of the motions that would be considered to be pronation, and his right foot followed suit, without the ground reaction force of friction below his feet, all of the motions that occurred from the top-down were not only restricted, they also occurred at the wrong time.

Which means that even though his feet were still driven from the top-down, his body didn’t move in any way close to the way that it would have moved when he’s performing the golf swing on land.

[ Sidebar: If you haven’t bought the story on orthotics (read: Band-Aid), you might not be aware of this: If you’ve been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and you’re walking around your house on wood or tiled floors with socks on, those surfaces don’t allow for enough friction between your feet and the ground.

Hence, there’s a strong possibility that this lack of friction is irritating your plantar fascia even more.

By continuing to allow your feet to move in an environment that doesn’t allow for enough friction, you’re bound to create more rigidity throughout your body.

By the way, if you like wearing socks around the house, take a look at what Pedestal Footwear has to offer.  Use the code,“engagingmuscles” and they’ll give you 15% off of your entire purchase. ]

This may be difficult to hear, but the truth of the matter is that when it comes right down to how your feet function, you’ve been fed an incomplete story that has been repeated over and over again for far too long.

(Perspective)

Since the experts have a vested interest in how many orthotics are sold on a daily basis, this worldview on how your feet function has become the norm (a.k.a., the status quo).

This, without any regard for how your muscles are performing.

Along the same lines, the majority of the running shoes that are available to you today are stuffed with a bunch of unnecessary bells and whistles that force your feet to go in directions that allow for anything but efficient motion.

<figure><img src="https://www.engagingmuscles.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Pronation-Running-Shoes-Wall.jpg" alt="Pronation Running Shoes Wall" width="600" Height="400" /></figure>

Photo Credit: beyondhue Flickr via Compfight <a

Since I don’t have any preconceived thoughts as to how I’d sell you a pair of pronation control shoes or orthotics, I’ll stick with the principles of physics.

Muscles can only contract and pull; they cannot push. Consequently, an ingenious series of levers, consisting of muscles attached to various points of our skeletal structure, have evolved in order to enable a range of movement.

 — James Kakalios, THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES

 

Another question that’s not being asked is, are your muscles capable of pulling at the right time and in the right direction?

In other words, just because your muscles are present, doesn’t mean they’re capable of pulling optimally.

Seeing as how the ground is going to continue to do what it does, and gravity is going to remain as consistent as ever, I’m hoping that you can see that having muscles that are fully capable of pulling is a priority.

Whereas, a tight muscle is a symptom of something bigger.

Punching The Ground:

Whether you’re running or walking, in order to take a step forward, your feet have no other choice than to punch the ground with whatever your body has to offer up.

As you might have already imagined, the ground is going to punch right back.  And when it does, your front-foot is going to go against the pull of gravity.

At the same time that your front-foot is going in one direction, your heel bone, a component part of your rear-foot, is going in the opposite direction.

The opposite direction that just so happens to be the same direction that gravity is pulling all of the other body parts that are connected to your foot.

(Pronation)

In order for more and more orthotics and running shoes to be sold on a daily basis, you’ve only heard the part where your feet have no other choice than to go in one direction.

When the reality is, your rear-foot is going in one direction at the same time that your front-foot is going in the opposite direction.

To say the same thing in a slightly different way, at the same time that your rear-foot is pronating, your front-foot is supinating.

Just in case you didn’t catch all of that, on every single step, your foot is pronating and supinating at the same time.

Which means that everything that you’ve heard about orthotics and pronation control running shoes is a lie!

If the history on how to work with plantar fasciitis has shown one thing, it’s that chasing the pain isn’t the best option.

But yet, even with all of its failures, this is the approach that continues to this day.

SHIP.

(Art)

If you found this post to be educational, and you know somebody that has been dealing with plantar fasciitis, I would greatly appreciate you sharing this post. You can do this by emailing it to a friend, family member, colleague or feel free to share it on Facebook. 

A BIG thanks in advance.  🙂

Thanks for taking the time to read this post!  If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to Engaging Muscles.  You can also like Engaging Muscles on Facebook, subscribe to my YouTube Channel or feel free to connect with me on Twitter @rickmerriam.

Book Mentioned: The PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROS by James Kakalios

Product Mentioned: Pedestal Footwear

Photo Credit: a paulchu shot Flickr via Compfight

Photo Credit: Judd Helms Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: beyondhue Flickr via Compfight

Summary
Understanding Pronation and Supination (and How That Relates to Overcoming Plantar Fasciitis)
Article Name
Understanding Pronation and Supination (and How That Relates to Overcoming Plantar Fasciitis)
Description
Pronation and supination are motions that aren't isolated to your feet. For far too long, the focus has been on over-pronation as the reason for pain.
Author
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I have held a license to practice massage therapy for over 20 years. For the first 18 years of my career, I was a nationally certified personal trainer. During that time, I completed thousands of one-on-one personal training sessions. I went on to teach biomechanics to personal trainers, group exercise instructors, and physical therapists throughout New England. I worked as a sports massage therapist at ESPN. Over the last few years, I have been quoted in Runner’s World UK, Massage Therapy & Bodywork, Massage Magazine, IDEA Fitness Journal, Massage & Fitness Magazine, and The Guardian Liberty Voice. I have also served as an applied biomechanics consultant for the fitness staff at Canyon Ranch, The Greenbrier, and ESPN. For the last 7 years, I've been teaching applied anatomy & kinesiology at Parker University. I have a private sports massage therapy practice in Dallas, Texas.

6 thoughts on “Understanding Pronation and Supination (and How That Relates to Overcoming Plantar Fasciitis)

  1. Thank you for posting this very informative article. I’ve been suffering from plantar fasciitis for several months now. It started just after I started using orthotic insert. I will discontinue use immediately. Can you recommend any certain brand of shoes to purchase that don’t cost an arm and leg? Thanks again.

    • It’s not uncommon to hear about people that have been trying to get beyond plantar fasciitis for months or in some cases years.

      I recently worked with a lady that had been dealing with plantar fasciitis for 4 years. After doing four sessions within a two-week time frame, she was performing better and she didn’t have anything close to what she was feeling first thing in the morning.

      Believe it or not, in most cases, plantar fasciitis has little to do with your feet. https://www.engagingmuscles.com/2016/05/08/plantar-fasciitis-foot-pain/

      Unfortunately, when it comes to pain or an injury, the experts continue to chase the pain and address the *symptom*. Then they pretend to do work that allows for a noticeable improvement after each visit.

      If you’re looking to save money on an athletic shoe, your best bet at this point in time is to go to your local specialty running shoe store.

      Since buying shoes online has gained momentum over the last few years, you’ll most likely find last year’s version of a particular shoe on sale.

      Note: Without seeing the shape, size, and available motion of your feet, I’m not capable of providing you with as good a recommendation as I am able to do for my massage therapy clients.

      Having said that, I recommend giving your local specialty running shoe store a call to see if they carry ALTRA. If they carry this brand, the two shoes that I recommend trying on is the ALTRA Instinct and the ALTRA Escalante.

      Note: The Escalante is a brand new shoe.

      Lastly, even if you find shoes that are on sale, you might end up spending a little bit more than what you’ve paid for an athletic shoe in the past. Since your base of support is so important to how the rest of your body functions, I recommend looking at the environment that your feet are in as one of the most important investments that you’ll make in your lifetime.

  2. Thanks for the instructive article! What if flat feet are starting to affect my squat, my knee health and even my posture? What approach would you recommend in that case?

    • What you’ve explained is that your base of support is causing all of your body parts to pronate before you even perform a squat.

      Meaning, you’re starting your squat from a position of pronation (i.e., flexion). Not only throughout your feet but also your legs, thighs, etc. This is due to the fact that before you even go to decelerate the motions that occur when you perform a squat, all of the bones above your feet are following the directions that your feet are going.

      First and foremost, your starting position is due to the amount of motion that you have throughout the joints of your feet. Then, gravity and ground reaction forces take care of the rest.

      Rather than artificially support your feet with “custom” orthotics or something else that only serves as a Band-Aid, your best option is to look into a particular therapy to improve how your muscles are dealing with gravity.

      By taking this path, you’ll not only *prevent* things that could come up down the road, you’ll also be performing better along the way.

      If this sounds like something that you’re interested in pursuing, send me a private message at rick.merriam@engagingmuscles.com and I’ll recommend a practitioner in your area.

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