Running Gait is often not about your feet

Emma Roe from The Derby Therapist explains that a thorough analysis of your running gait won't just look at how your feet land, it will focus more on WHY they behave as they do.

Reputable running shops will look at your running gait by watching or filming you on a treadmill. This is a useful process to help ensure you get the best shoe for the way you run.


But is that all there is to gait analysis?


In a nutshell, no!


When I look at someone running on the treadmill your gait will be analysed but that’s only a part of what I’m looking at. The case study below helps explains the kind of process I go through.


A female client comes to me with pain in the top of the left foot, the bit near the last 3 toes. She thinks she might need different shoes, and asks me to have a look.


Checking the foot their is no specific area of pain so we can rule out a stress fracture.

After checking her body standing stationary, muscle testing and also doing some balancing and other movements I get her on the treadmill.


From watching her barefoot on the treadmill and taking a video it is apparent there are few things that need to be addressed. I see these kind of issues crop up a lot and usually people will fixate on the foot being the issue. So what else could it be? Here is a list of common findings:

  • One or both knees move inwards on landing.

  • One foot turns outwards

  • One side of the pelvis drops downwards

  • Arms move across the body

  • Forward lean from the hips

  • Long stride length

  • Loud and heavy heel landing


So what about my client with the sore top of her left foot?


She also had the left knee roll inwards, right side of her pelvis dropped down on mid stance and left foot turned outwards.


Keeping things simple these all point to a weakness in the left gluteal muscle. This muscle (there are 3 plus smaller helpers) keeps the leg abducted away from the body, so if its weak it doesn’t do this very well causing the medial knee roll on landing.


The foot turns out because the muscle is too weak to lift the leg up and through.


The foot also will pronate slightly due to the turn out so the toes can end up gripping to try to correct the position of the foot.... hence the pain.


But this was the point of the body furthest away from the glutes which were actually the problem!!


It's worth noting here that this is much more common in women due to our pelvis being different to a male. It's more lax to enable child birth. It's also wider creating a larger angle from hip to knee. Women basically get more hip and knee problems. Great!


What's next? Some exercises to strengthen the gluteal and hey presto all fixed!


Well not quite. The problem is that the body has got used to working that way. The runner feels her form was OK. So what else?


This is where gait 'retraining' comes in.


I get her runner back on the treadmill and give lots of prompts to get her running form looking better. This feels horrendous to the client.

However when I show her on the video what they looked like its so interesting to see. The response is quite typical: “ooh, I look like a different runner".


So I don’t expect her to replicate this immediately but having the visual image really helps cement in the mind what the desired outcome is. She needs the strength to correct the weak areas to allow the new movement to happen. But the most important bit is the neurological side. She needs rewiring to make the new way of moving subconscious and this takes time and practice.


Strength and conditioning. The strength is obvious. The conditioning less so.


I get the client back in every 6 weeks or so to reassess and take another quick video to record progress and show the client. The whole process can take quite a few months but its worth it.


I also do listen to my own advice too. I get my husband to video me and I work hard to address my imbalances.


I like to practice movement patterns on my slow runs. I focus on even weight through both feet and legs. Am I absorbing impact though my body, do I sound quiet or am I more like an elephant? Belly button to spine, like in yoga, creates a neutral pelvis. Am I using my big and second toe when moving from mid stance to the very end of my stride? Are my arms driving behind me opening up my chest and making me tall?


So much to think about but this is conditioning my body and rewiring me to move in a better way. It also enables me to become much more in tune with my movement. Be aware if something feels tight, I make mental note to work on this during my strength and roller/evil ball work.


It can be hard work but so rewarding when the body starts to respond and the niggles disappear.


I have gone through the main issues and basics here. There’s more details but I’d ramble on for pages if I went through everything!


So gait analysis is a really useful tool to enable us to start the journey of understanding how we move when we run. But it is only the start. The retraining and conditioning becomes addictive as the body responds and your running becomes so much more free and fun.


For information on the services I provide and details of how to contact me, visit my website: https://thederbytherapist.co.uk/treatments/

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