Ask a runner what the most important part of their kit is and many will say their shoes. Whether you're an Olympic athlete or a pavement pounder, happy feet can make all the difference to your running.
There are many things to consider when buying running shoes, but one important detail is understanding your pronation type.
Caleb McInnes, Sports Podiatrist, Director of and triathlon coach, says pronation is part of the natural movement of the human body and refers to the way your foot rolls inward as it contacts the ground.
"Pronation and supination, which is the opposite of pronation (the rolling out of the foot), are normal motions and should occur during walking or running," says McInnes.
"Pronation allows for the foot to adapt to terrain and is part of the body's natural shock absorption system. Whereas supination allows the foot and leg to be a stiff rigid lever for propulsion. Without supination, it would be very hard to push off as the foot would be like a floppy bag of bones."
Pronation is personal
McInnes says every runner is different and the degree to which one person pronates or supinates is very individual.
"There's little evidence to say that pronation and or supination cause injury. What's more important is that our muscles are strong enough to control the rate at which these movements occur.
"For example; as we pronate the Tibialis Posterior, which runs down the inside of the leg behind the ankle bone and the attaches into the arch of foot, lengthens as it contracts and helps slow the rate at which we pronate. During supination, it shortens as it contacts and helps re-supinate the foot. If this muscle, which is one of many that has a role in the motions of pronation and supinate is weak then it has the potential to become overloaded or stressed, leading to damage or injury."
Strength and mobility affect pronation
McInnes says altering a runner's pronation or supination can affect more than the foot. Small changes to a runner's gait will alter the position of the knee, hip, lower back and sometimes even the shoulders.
"Where you get sore is often not the source of the pain. Instead, it's often where you're tight, weak and/or compensating," says McInnes. "That's why runners with issues in their knees, hip and lower back should have their foot and lower limb biomechanics assessed by a Podiatrist who is trained to assess, diagnose and manage all conditions of the foot and lower limb. Doing this will help to identify strength and mobility issues that may be contributing to their pain."
Over prescription of orthotics
So, should you rush out and get custom-made orthotics?
While orthotics can help, McInnes says not everyone needs them and stresses they should not be a permanent aid. Generally, there are three reasons why orthotics will be prescribed – to help unload stressed or damaged tendons and muscles; to support a deformity and to improve the distribution of pressure.
"In most cases orthotics are prescribed too early to block what is natural motion without firstly addressing mobility and strength issues," says McInnes.
"People are commonly given orthotics without any plan to get out of them. If you have a weak core you don't wear a brace forever - you strengthen it through exercises like Pilates. The feet are no different, and we should train them like any other part of the body."
Choosing the right running shoe
As a rule, McInnes says runners should choose the least amount of shoe that does the job for you. He recommends getting a running shoe assessment to help find the lightest, flattest and most flexible shoe that your body will allow.
"Some people will need more support and cushion that others, but there's no value in having more than you need and stopping/limiting the natural motion if your feet and body are strong enough to provide the required support on their own."
McInnes cautions choosing running shoes based on a whether they are designed for flat, neutral or high arch feet. "Just because your foot may appear to have a high arch, doesn't mean you don't pronate. Feet that appear to have high or flat arches could both benefit from a shoe with maximum cushion," says McInnes.
Exercise your feet
Finally, runners need to train their feet as much as they train the rest of the body. Doing exercises that work on improving mobility, co-ordination, proprioception, strength, neuromuscular control and running technique can help to reduce the risk of injury, rehabilitate injury and enhance performance. McInnes suggests researching and attending a Podiatrist run mobility and stability workshop or efficient running training session to help take your running to the next level.
The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.
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