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Triathlon Magazine Canada - - CONTENTS - By Greg Lehman Greg Lehman is a phys­io­ther­a­pist, run­ning in­jury ther­a­pist and chi­ro­prac­tor at the Ur­ban Ath­lete and at Med­can in Toronto. Fol­low him at

Should You Change Your Gait

Run­ning gait anal­y­sis aims to tell you how to run. But some­times your body knows bet­ter than the pro­fes­sion­als. When, if ever, is it right to change your run­ning form?

From bare­foot to Chi Run­ning, to the pose Method of run­ning, there’s been a rise in the pop­u­lar­ity of run­ning gait anal­y­sis over the past few years. There are two types of gait analy­ses avail­able which are con­ducted for one of two rea­sons: per­for­mance en­hance­ment or in­jury treat­ment/preven­tion. The first type of test­ing in­volves one video cam­era which takes mul­ti­ple views of a run­ner. This is a sub­jec­tive as­sess­ment but the use of slow mo­tion video helps iso­late some com­mon run­ning f laws like over-strid­ing, hip drop, knee col­lapse or the au­di­ble sound of a heavy heel strike. Al­low­ing an ath­lete to see his or her own phys­i­o­log­i­cal im­bal­ances can con­trib­ute to a pro­pri­o­cep­tive self-cor­rec­tion.

De­spite the in­crease in such test­ing, there’s lit­tle ev­i­dence that chang­ing tech­nique can change per­for­mance. When im­ple­mented for in­jury treat­ment and pain man­age­ment, how­ever, there’s stronger re­search in­di­cat­ing ef­fec­tive­ness. Nonethe­less, any changes re­sult­ing from gait analy­ses should be done over time and with cau­tion.

The sec­ond as­sess­ment is more com­pre­hen­sive in­volv­ing 2.5 hours of test­ing and analy­ses, and is more ex­pen­sive ($495) pro­vid­ing an abun­dance of data. Sci­en­tif­i­cally-ori­ented and tech­no­log­i­cally driven triath­letes might be com­pelled by the 3d Per­for­mance As­sess­ment. It uses hi-speed Vi­con cam­eras and a mo­tion cap­ture sys­tem to ac­cu­rately track and mea­sure spe­cific run­ning kine­mat­ics in all planes of mo­tion. Three-di­men­sional kine­mat­ics of the an­kle, knee, hip and pelvis are cal­cu­lated and com­pared to a nor­ma­tive data­base of over a thou­sand run­ners.

Both of these as­sess­ments re­quire clin­i­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Your coach or ther­a­pist needs to know what pos­si­ble kine­matic move­ments might be re­lated to in­juries or ex­ces­sive loads on the body. They must also know that not ev­ery per­ceived “flaw” in run­ning form is re­ally a f law that re­lates to in­jury. This is where as­sess­ments be­come dan­ger­ous. It’s easy to fo­cus on things that look dif­fer­ent but ac­tu­ally have noth­ing to do with in­jury. Mak­ing changes to these “red her­rings” can cause fur­ther prob­lems.

Should you change your form

If you’re new to mul­ti­sport and new to run­ning then a sim­ple run­ning as­sess­ment might help pro­vide you with some cues to char­ac­ter­is­tics com­mon in good run­ners. These are the gen­eral but im­por­tant cues such as “run­ning tall,” (which in­volves keep­ing shoul­ders down and back straight), “re­laxed and sim­ple arm swing” (aim to drive el­bow back but not for­ward – the arm comes for­ward on its own like a spring) or “driv­ing with the hip” (think of driv­ing the knee up and for­ward in­creas­ing the force into the ground and caus­ing the knee to f lex).

If you are in­jured and your as­sess­ment has re­vealed a move­ment as­so­ci­ated with in­jury you have to weigh the pros and cons and de­cide if it’s worth chang­ing. Take the fol­low­ing ex­am­ples:

Sports medicine clin­ics are not equipped to mea­sure the forces on the body dur­ing run­ning. We can as­sess a run­ner’s foot strike pat­tern and stride rate. If a run­ner has a his­tory of stress frac­tures cou­pled with a crash­ing heel strike and low step fre­quency we can rea­son that per­haps there is too much stress through the lower leg. We know that in­creas­ing cadence can de­crease im­pact load­ing rate (a fac­tor re­lated to in­jury) so we can rea­son that in this in­stance, chang­ing this run­ner’s form is ad­vis­able.

On the other hand, con­sider a run­ner ex­hibit­ing high de­grees of prona­tion and very high prona­tion ve­loc­ity who has been run­ning for years with­out in­jury. In this case, the run­ner fully adapted a f lawed gait to those move­ment pat­terns and the ef­fort of chang­ing tech­nique might out­weigh the ben­e­fits.

In­jury and pain are of­ten the best rea­sons to get your form as­sessed. If you’ve been racked with in­juries for years or are cur­rently in­jured, now would be a good time to as­sess form.

Take ac­tion

Chang­ing your run­ning tech­nique pri­mar­ily re­dis­tributes the stresses placed on your body. Chang­ing to a mid-foot or fore­foot strike sim­ply in­creases the stress on the an­kle rather than the foot. The same ap­plies to bare­foot run­ning. Thus any gait changes should al­ways oc­cur slowly. In­creas­ing step rate is an­other com­mon in­ter­ven­tion. It has been shown to de­crease the load­ing rate when the foot hits the ground as well as chang­ing the load through­out the body. In some ways, it re­dis­tributes the load over time (more steps to spread out the work of run­ning).

Orthotics and shoes are of­ten used to mod­ify run­ning style but there’s lit­tle ev­i­dence that they ac­tu­ally do this. They might cer­tainly inf lu­ence the stress dis­tri­bu­tion at the level of the foot but the changes in form at the knee or hip are min­i­mal. They still might help your aches and pains but of­ten not for the rea­sons we think.

In sum­mary, run­ning analy­ses can be help­ful but should not be con­sid­ered a cure-all. Be­ing in­jured is the best rea­son to per­form an as­sess­ment but re­mem­ber that any changes made come at some cost and should al­ways be grad­ual.

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