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Learn About Your Feet


Pronation is the action of the foot as it roles inward upon foot contact with the ground. This action acts as a shock absorber for the foot and rest of the body. Over pronation occurs when a person's foot rolls inward and their arch flattens while performing weight bearing tasks. The foot may appear normal while sitting, with a noticeable arch under the foot, but over pronation becomes evident when a person stands or walks. Even people with normal foot structure can develop over pronation as a result of excessive foot stress and improper arch support.

There are many possible causes for over pronation including walking on hard surfaces for extended periods of time - either barefoot or with flat shoes, heredity, obesity, an imbalance between the posterior and anterior leg muscles, or tight gastrocnemius and soleus muscles among other causes.

Since over pronation causes the person to walk along the inner portion of the foot, this poor alignment may lead to injury in the foot and ankle among many other areas of the body. Problems such as heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, knee pain, back pain, and other medical issues can be the result of over pronation.

There are various methods used to identify over pronation. One method is to look at a person’s shoes. If the shoes are more worn on the inside of the sole, then over pronation may be a problem. Another indicator would be to make a footprint by wetting the foot and stepping onto any surface where a print can clearly be seen. If there is no dry spot to specify the arch there may be a need for special foot care.

Recommended forms of treatment for over pronation are to wear supportive shoes, use orthotics, and perform specific exercises to correct alignment and strength. There are many exercises that can help strengthen the foot and improve lower body alignment. Here is one simple conditioning exercise for the feet that can be performed with a towel.

Towel Pull: Place a towel flat on the floor. Keep the heels on the floor and place the toes on the edge of the towel. Next, pull the towel towards the body with the toes so that the towel gathers under the feet. Make sure the foot remains on floor as the toes pull the towel.

This exercise may also be performed while sitting in a chair, but many people will be able to relate the standing exercise to weight bearing tasks such as walking, running, or jumping faster than the seated version of this exercise.

Once the person is able to perform several repetitions of this exercise, a small weight such as a one-pound dumbbell may be placed on the towel.

One simple drill for alignment involves the use of a mirror. The person should stand in front of a mirror with the feet parallel to one another. The person should then slightly shift their weight towards the inner and then outer portions of the feet while watching the knees shift laterally. This should only be a slight shift, but it may be the difference between a safe position and an injury.

This mirror drill will show how the foot alignment greatly affects the entire lower body, including the knees and hips. The person will see and feel the difference between proper and poor alignment. The ankles, knees, and hips must be in line with one another. Another method of teaching proper alignment is a common exercise used in the fitness world, the “Squat Exercise.” The person should perform the squat exercise without weights to learn the proper form before using light dumbbells.

This exercise will help bring awareness of proper alignment, and once weights are used, it will help her with lower body strength. And for athletes, after the Squat Exercise is mastered, they should perform landing drills such as the “Stick Drill.” This drill will bring awareness for landing from jumps. This exercise involves dropping down from a step and landing in the proper squat position. Start with a low step until the proper foot and knee positions are mastered.

For best results, athletes should practice ½ and parallel squat positions. Once the proper position is mastered, the athlete may jump upon contact with the ground, performing the “Depth Jump.”

For safety and success, athletes must learn proper foot alignment and perform appropriate strength and sport specific conditioning exercises. And keep in mind that injuries are NOT necessarily part of sports. Many aches, pains, and injuries may be prevented when the training program is carefully constructed and the athletes are carefully monitored. One more important note: Exercise should not performed when there is pain, illness, injury.

Karen Goeller, CSCS


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