Gait Analysis and Modification to Prevent Overuse Injuries in Runners
With the multitude of trends and literature out there on different styles or patterns of running, it is difficult to determine what is the best approach for enhancing performance and injury prevention. Individual running form is often a reflection of not only training and skill level, but joint mobility, muscle length, and motor patterns. There should not be a “one size fits all” approach to running form, but research suggests that there are a few key parameters that can be fine-tuned to help you keep logging miles.
Running is not (typically) a contact sport, but the impact of every stride can put a great deal of stress through the musculoskeletal system. If the amount of stress through the body is appropriate, this can help a runner build strength and endurance. However, if these same stresses are too great, the system can break down and nagging running injuries may pop up. Over-striding is a common running gait flaw that increases the impact of each step through the skeleton and hits the breaks on running performance. Over-striding involves the runner landing with his or her lead foot far in front of the body. Instead, runners should aim to land with the foot close/underneath the body to allow the muscles to accept and mediate the impact rather than just the skeletal system.
Fine-tuning Running Form to Reduce Injury Risk
Researchers have found that cadence or the number of steps per minute, can largely impact running injury risk. Those runners that have a lower cadence or take less steps per minute are often over-striding and accepting more impact/stress through their legs with running. In contrast, those runners who take more steps are far more likely develop a healthier pattern landing with their feet underneath their body with less deviations that waste time between steps. An easy way to calculate your own cadence is to count steps during a regular run. The optimal cadence or sweet spot for lowering injury risk with running is about 180 steps per minute. Now, getting more steps in does not have to mean running faster – it simply means increasing your leg turnover and efficiency. Once you have your cadence, try out a metronome set to 180 beats per minute and see if you can match your footfalls with the beat for a few minutes of a run. There are plenty of apps out there that offer metronomes, even some that can be synced with your favorite running playlist!
Another common flaw in running form involves tilting of the hips or pelvis during the landing phase of running. When the foot contacts the ground, the hips should stay relatively level. If one hip dips towards the earth with the landing, this wastes energy and changes the biomechanics through all the joints, creating injury risk. There could be a multitude of factors playing into this excessive “hip drop”, but the most common is weakness in the gluteus medius. The gluteus medius is a hip muscle responsible for maintaining pelvic stability during one-legged activities and moving the leg into abduction (lifting leg out to the side). There are some key exercises that runner can perform to strengthen hip musculature and help work the kinks out of their running form. Single-leg balance activities with an emphasis on keeping the hips level, clamshells, straight leg raises, and resisted side stepping or band walks are just a few ways to target these important hip muscles.
Considering all these factors that are at play, it is best to consult a physical therapist or exercise professional for a Running Gait Analysis that will point out areas of injury risk and give specific recommendations on changing your form for performance and injury prevention/treatment.
Disclaimer: If you continue to experience unbearable, reoccurring pain, be sure to schedule an appointment with your physician or join our physical therapy family and allow us to help you regain function.
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She has been a licensed physical therapist since 2015 and has enjoyed working with an active orthopedic population with an emphasis on manual therapy and exercise prescription. While working as a PT on the west coast she pursued continuing education to hone her skills. She completed an orthopedic manual physical therapy residency and fellowship program through The Ola Grimsby Institute in Seattle, WA from 2016-2018, culminating in membership as a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists. She loves guiding people back to activity and empowering them to take control of their health, wellness, and fitness.
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