When I mention gait analysis, a lot of runners will think of the time they had their trainers chosen by a running store. A camera is placed to record a runner’s movement pattern from the ankles and that is what will be the basis for finding the right trainer. Studies actually show that if you choose to buy a new trainer based on knee pain, the angle of your ankle movement has no correlation with that injury. This means the over-pronation you may have, or excessive heel striking, would not have a direct impact on that knee pain you suffer with. The stride pattern or amount of force you apply however, is much more relevant (something to think about).
What few runners will think about is a biomechanical gait analysis; more than one camera angle is recorded for a longer period of time, and the shot is placed so we can see the whole body. During a biomechanical analysis you’re being assessed for any potential injury or weaknesses in your running style.
Your running style
So everybody runs a different way, for example some strike forefoot, some heel, some are dead in the centre and slap the ground all at once with the whole foot. The reasons straight from this point are because of your speed and the way you carry yourself. Sprinting will take you onto your toes more as the acceleration and foot strike won’t give you enough time to hit the ground with anything more than that. You also need the push to gain speed using all muscles possible, in this case using the calves too. Longer distances will lead you to the firmer strike as, comparing with sprinting, you are running a lot slower and your feet will be in more contact with the ground.
Your posture in running can change not only your foot strike but also how high you drive those knees up, how much of a pronation you have in your ankles, even the amount of discomfort you may feel in your lower back and shoulders.
One of the common problems found in a lot of runners are knock knees which happens as you make contact with the ground. As you bend your right knee on impact your hip is internally rotated which leads your knee to bend inwards. This means as your left leg comes across for the next stride it may rub or ‘knock’ against your other knee. This can be a reason for your front knee pain, or even your IT band issues. As a runner, you’ll often hear about that awful IT band. Be sure to look after it especially on the build up to a marathon – once they flare up there is no quick fix and a period of rest from running is always advised. Not great for your training plan!
Needless to say, as most runners will have heard of this, over pronating can cause issues and is commonly a sign there are problems with stride. As mentioned in previous blogs however I need to emphasise; almost every runner pronates, it’s completely natural. It only becomes a problem if you are constantly injured in particular areas such as your Achilles tendon or the arch of your foot leading to plantar fasciitis. Over pronation can be due to a number of root causes such as pregnancy or obesity, sometimes just an imbalanced muscle structure in the lower legs. The point to remember is there are solutions and fixes but as with any injury, get it addressed before it becomes any worse.
Something that comes up a lot with the hips are a drop on the opposing striking foot, showing weakness in the hips (see fig.2.). As your left foot strikes, the left hip stabilisers are required to hold your posture in a straight position. Sometimes this can be affected by strength in the hips, or injury limiting their effectiveness. This problem can lead to IT band issues and problems in the front of the knee. As with all of the abnormalities in running style, the best thing you can do is to be assessed professionally rather than try to note yourself; as soon as you become aware of your running posture it will change and therefore will be difficult to pin point exactly what may be going wrong.
Finally one of the main causes of shin splints (MTSS) and stress fractures in the lower leg is over-striding. In doing this, you will no doubt be severely hitting the ground with your heel. MTSS can be caused by significant and repetitive impact through the leg, so by over-striding not only are you repeatedly striking harder than you would normally (leading to possible MTSS), but you’re also potentially causing problems for your hamstrings, hip flexors and lower back. Stress fractures are what they say they are; the impact of the ground causes heavy stress on the bones and can lead to fractures within them. There are 28 bones in your foot, all of which susceptible along with your tibia and fibula. A simple solution to address this is to gauge your stride pattern. If you hit the ground any less than 70 strides per minute then you may want to increase that without running any faster. This will limit the space between landings you make and therefore bringing down any likely chance of injury.
There are of course many other abnormalities that can lead to injury, these are just to name a few. If you are training for a marathon, or any distance event for that matter, I would strongly recommend having your gait analysed right at the start of training to help prevent any issues during the time. If you’re already in training and have problems occurring on a regular basis get them addressed, they’ll only get worse! Correcting your running gait can erase up to 50% of problems in runners, it’s well worth doing!
Treat the cause, not the problem.
Kieran Mote BSc