Gait Analysis for runners – is it that important?
I’ve just been reading a really fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal of all places! Not my usual paper by any means but this particular article caught my eye.
Edit – my apologies, it seems that for some people this article might be behind a pay wall. I’m not quite sure how I was able to view it for free but I do apologise for any frustration! I have subsequently found the video that accompanied the article here.
Now this article seeks to debunk the myth that running is bad for your joints, instead it suggests that running causes pain and injury because we don’t actually run very well. Which is where gait analysis comes in.
So first let’s look at the myth that running causes injury.
We’ve often been told that the shock and impact from running causes joint pain, injuries and osteoarthritis, especially in ankles, knee and hips. But recent studies have shown that runner’s bones are actually stronger and we all know that weight bearing exercise (like running!) is a key factor in preventing osteoporosis (loss of bone density). In fact new research from Australia has recommended that doctors should prescribe exercise not paracetamol to help with pain from arthritis. Runners are less likely to require joint replacement surgery or suffer from arthritis.
And yet many runner are injured or have pain, some even being forced to stop running because of the pain and injuries.
As the article demonstrates it’s not the activity that’s the problem – it’s the mechanics of our bodies that are often the problem. And that’s what gait analysis is – a scientific way of looking at the mechanics of movement, how our feet, ankles, knees, hips and back actually move and, most importantly, looking for any issues that might cause current pain or injuries in the future.
Now in some of the specifics my opinion, experience and training differ from those expressed in the article. The alterations to stride length and mechanics that it suggests runners can make unaided seem unrealistic. While this might be possible if you are working in a focused and dedicated environment like professional athletes these might be feasible. In real life . . . . I think we would struggle. For the vast majority of my patients the easiest, swiftest and most effective solution is a combination of focused exercises (to strengthen specific muscle groups), some tissue therapy when the pain is bad and orthotics. Yes, I know it isn’t a fashionable solution, but these teeny insoles won’t be noticed in your trainers. And they will help prevent future injuries. Plus, as they make your steps more efficient you will train better and faster. Not bad for something this teeny.