Your Foot Print

With a normal footstep, the heel hits the ground first, followed by a rolling motion of the foot towards the forefoot and toes. Finally, the footstep is completed by pushing off of the ball area of the foot. During the motion of a normal footstep, the arch absorbs shock as it slightly flattens when the foot rolls toward the toes; the arch then springs back up into position. About half of the arch actually touches the ground, which is considered to be normal pronation.

In reality, many people do not have normal feet with normal pronation that complete normal footsteps. Overpronation and underpronation are two types of irregular footsteps: with overpronation, the foot rolls toward the inside more so than usual; with underpronation, the foot rolls toward the outside more so than usual. Overpronation, which indicates a flat foot and low or collapsed arch, can result in strained arches and pain along the inner area of the knee. Underpronation, which indicates a high arch, can lead to sprained ankles and stress fractures because the arch does not flatten enough to absorb shock.

To avoid the injuries that often result from overpronation and underpronation, it is important to check the pronation of your feet. This can be done using the simple water test: wet the entire bottom of your foot, then step your wet foot onto a piece of dark, heavy paper or a paper bag. See if your footprint shows about half of the arch (normal pronation), an oblong shape with no space left for the arch (overpronation), or only a thin line along the outside of the foot, next to the space left by the arch (underpronation).

Those with a normal pronation can wear almost any shoe type without compensation for a high or fallen arch. Overpronators can benefit from over-the-counter, molded-leather arch supports, stability shoes, or motion-control shoes. Underpronators should have a shoe with a neutral cushion and softer midsole to absorb shock; they should avoid motion-control footwear.

Foot Anatomy

The foot is an intricate structure of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments that provide support, balance, and mechanical function. In fact, the bones of the feet account for 25% of the total bones in the entire human body. Add to this the constant stress, impact, and pressure that the feet endure on a daily basis and there is the potential for many foot problems to arise over the course of a lifetime of activity. If one part of the foot lacks proper placement or function, it can affect the entire foot, as well as other parts of the body.

The basic foot structure is comprised of three sections:

  • Forefoot: The forefoot area includes the five phalanges and their connecting metatarsals, as well as the ball of the foot. The phalanges are the toes, and the metatarsals are the long bones that connect to the phalanges. The big toe has two bones and one joint; the four smaller toes each have three bones and two joints.
  • Midfoot: The midfoot area is the arch, which is formed by five tarsal bones. The plantar fascia ligament runs along the arch, connecting the midfoot to the forefoot and hindfoot, along with other muscles.
  • Hindfoot: The hindfoot area connects the midfoot and ankle and is made up of three joints, as well as the heel bone. The heel is the largest bone in the foot and is protected by a fatty pad that absorbs shock and reduces pressure. Where the hindfoot and ankle meet, the joints form a hinge that allows for up and down motion of the foot.

Some of the most common reasons for foot and ankle problems are injuries; congenital foot deformities that occur at birth and can be hereditary; infections (bacterial, fungal, or viral); arthritis affecting one or multiple joints; tumors and abnormal growths; and issues that arise from ill-fitting or improper footwear, stress, or mechanical changes.