Fit City: Gait analysis can help pinpoint cause of running pain

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Fit City: Gait analysis can help pinpoint cause of running pain

IF YOU GO

RunLab Austin has three locations: 700-B South Lamar Blvd.; 1700 RR 620 North No. 102; and inside CATZ at 12611 Hymeadow Drive. For more information go to runlabaustin.com or call 512-266-1000.

You’ve probably spotted them on the trail before — a runner whose gait looks more clunky than a broken-down car, another whose arms flap like a flamingo with each stride.

Idiosyncrasies in running form can translate into injuries. Weak hips might cause knee pain, feet that roll inward too much might trigger shin splints, and an imbalance in the strength of quads versus hamstrings could mean lower back pain.

But how do you know if that’s happening?

Most running stores will put customers on a treadmill to fit them in shoes, but you need to look at the entire body to understand what’s going on biomechanically, says chiropractor Kim Davis, owner of RunLab. The company performs gait analysis of both injured runners and those looking to prevent injury, then follows up with any needed rehabilitation.

The goal, says Davis, 39, isn’t to tell the runner to change his or her natural stride — it’s to pinpoint any weaknesses in the body that are causing bad form. Strengthen those weaknesses and the form will naturally correct itself, based on an individual’s bone structure and flexibility.

That makes sense to me, so I agree, a little apprehensively, to step onto a treadmill at RunLab and let rehab technician Jimmy Eierdam, 34, aim the cameras at me. He’ll tape me from the front, back and side, first while I’m wearing my shoes, then while I’m barefoot. (Cash rate for a gait analysis is $210. RunLab will file for insurance coverage if the analysis is related to an injury.)

It takes about 15 minutes, and by the time we’re finished I’ve worked up a good sweat. Davis downloads the footage onto her computer, then projects it on a screen so we can all scrutinize it.

We look at the version where I’m wearing shoes first. The first thing Davis notices is that my right leg crosses slightly over the midline when I run.

“It’s almost like you’re running on a beam,” she says. But instead of just telling me to run with my legs farther apart, she suggests strengthening my hips, which should naturally cause me to run with a straighter stance. “That’s where rehab comes in,” she says.

She points out a few other issues. I’m landing a bit on the side of my feet, and I’m getting “stuck” in the pronated position. From the front view, it’s pretty obvious my left foot does a weird waggle with every step, too. It’s all probably related to the hip thing — one side isn’t strong enough to hold the other side, and my body is compensating.

Then we switch to the barefoot video, where Davis notices something else — my left big toe looks stiff. She has me stand up, then tries bending my toe a few different directions. Yes, she confirms, I have an inflexible left toe.

“Big toe mobility is such a big deal,” she says. A running shoe with a bit of a rocker, like the Hoka One One, might help, she suggests.

She had good things to say, too — I don’t overstride much, and my pelvis looks pretty even, at least when I’m running in shoes. “You don’t have a drop like we see in people with knee problems,” she says. My upper body mechanics look good too — no crazy flailing to balance myself.

To wrap things up, she flashes a photo of a pack of Kenyan runners blazing through a marathon. Their front legs are much higher than mine, their back legs more fully extended.

“If you want to get stronger and more powerful, strength is important,” she says, tapping at the image.

RunLab works with both elite and recreational athletes.

Suzanne Nuccitelli, 45, started having lower leg pain while training for her first full marathon last year. She got her gait analyzed and found that her hip was dropping on one side. She discovered that her hips and glutes weren’t strong enough, so her hip was dropping and her lower leg was taking on more of a load than it should.

That image motivated her to stick with the exercise program that therapists recommended, and she recently completed her first Ironman triathlon.

“No matter how you think you’re running, when you see how you’re running (on video), oh my gosh, there’s nothing like it. I will never forget my hip dropping like that,” she says.

Another triathlete, Barb Brooks, 62, wondered if by having her gait analyzed she could spot a way to improve her form and ultimately get faster. By watching video of herself running, she learned she runs on her toes, and that her stride is a little short. That explained the calf pain she’d been having. Rehab work, she says, has helped ease the problem.

John Schrup, 44, has been running most of his life, but says as he’s gotten older and spent more time in front of a computer or driving, it’s gotten tougher. A gait analysis revealed some muscular imbalances caused by sitting for long periods.

“I had this picture of myself of everything is great, I’ve been doing this forever, I’m a natural. The truth of the matter is as we get older things change,” he says.

He worked with Davis on a series of exercises to do before or after long drives, and that’s helped him get back to happy running.

As for me, I have some work to do. I need to strengthen my hips and loosen my toes. Correct that, and maybe I’ll run more like a Kenyan and less like Quasimodo.

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