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Posted: April 13, 2016  :

(IAWR) Athletics: Controlling Pronation Isn't the Key to Injury-Free Running

Conventional wisdom holds that overpronation (the foot rolling in too much upon footstrike) is a major cause of injury. And using shoes to control excess pronation decreases injury risk. There's a multi-million (or is it billion?) dollar running shoe industry based upon this premise.

We've written previously that this "fact" is nothing more than a myth. It should be laid to rest. And researchers are drawing the same conclusion.

In a 2011 University of British Columbia study of women runners (yeah! we need more studies with women runners), wearing the "correct" shoes did not lower the incidence of injury. In fact, runners who pronated exhibited higher injury rates wearing stability shoes than when wearing neutral shoes. The authors concluded that the practice of prescribing shoes based upon foot type not only had no merit … but was "potentially injurious".

In the June 26th 2013 New York Times article A Popular Myth About Running Injuries, author Gretchen Reynolds reports on a 2013 Danish study. In the study, new runners were told to run as much as they wanted to. New runners were chosen for the study to rule out previous running injuries that would increase the risk of re-injury. All runners ran in neutral shoes.

After one year, the researchers examined runners who had run over 600 miles (960 km). Those with neutral feet in fact had slightly higher rates of injury than those that underpronated or overpronated — even though they all wore neutral shoes. Rasmus Ostergaard Nielsen, the study's author concluded that over- or under-pronation does not contribute to injury.

Bryan Heiderscheit, an associate Professor of Biomechanics and Director of the running clinic at the University of Wisconsin at Madison agrees: "The research reinforces a widespread belief among scientists studying running "that pronation doesn't play much of a role" in injury risk".

This conclusion corroborates Bennett's own experience. Being a classic overpronator, he wore heavy duty motion control shoes (he called them "tanks") and orthotics for 19 years (1982 – 2001). During this time, he suffered many running injuries, the worst being a 4-year long case of IT band pain. 1999 – 2001, he made several fundamental changes to his running, the most significant being:

  • Incorporating running-specific exercises into his training (1999)
  • Reducing running frequency to 3-4 days weekly (1999)
  • Gradually weaning himself off orthotics (2000-2001)
  • Not wearing motion control shoes (2001)

He has suffered only one major injury in the last 17 years!

Conclusion: If you are injured or prone to injury, pronation (or lack of thereof) isn't the villain. Running-specific weakness in your feet and legs is the likely culprit! Switching shoes won't cure your ills. Strengthen your feet and legs so they can withstand the stress of training and support you reaching your goals.

For running-specific strengthening exercises, check out Injury-Free Running for Women Over 40. It's an inexpensive way to prevent injury from ruining your training and racing plans!

© 2014 Savvy Runner Inc.

Bennett Cohen and Gail Gould are the Founders and Presidents of the International Association of Women Runners. For access to resources to help you reach your goals for running and racing, visit

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