Running isn’t just about speed and distance. It’s also about considering your body’s movements so you can run as efficiently as possible without pain. Most runners have to deal with mild aches and injuries every now and then. What may begin as a slight misalignment in form can develop into a serious injury. It’s important to remember that as you’re running and your feet are striking the ground, the ground is also punching back on you. For most people, it’s hard to visualize exactly what body mechanics put you at risk for injury. Recognizing what’s misaligned with your running form will allow your body to move as efficiently as possible. One of the best ways to analyze how to improve your running form is to participate in a comprehensive running assessment.
Better Form Equals Less Injury
Runners are mostly at risk for repetitive use injuries. Some statistics estimate that 90% of runners miss training time every year due to injury. A combination of running too far, too quickly, or too often can aggravate areas in your lower body. Common injuries affect your kneecap (Runner’s Knee), the tendons around your shin (Shin Splints), the tendons around your heel (Achilles Tendinitis), and the tissue around your foot (Plantar Fasciitis). Small aches here and there have the potential of developing into these conditions over time. You want to put the least possible amount of force on your joints and muscles when you go for a run. Keeping good form is one way of being a more efficient runner and can help prevent overuse injuries.
• Focus on striking the ground with the middle of your foot, not the heel
• Keep your head and chest upright
• Keep your gaze ahead as you run and try to keep yourself from bouncing up and down
• Have a slight forward lean to propel your body forward
• Move forward, don’t cross your arms over the middle of your body
• Keep your shoulders relaxed
• Keep your hands loose
• Relax your jaw and neck
Analyze How You Run
Running form is always something you should be looking out for, but it can get more specific than that. The way you move and what injuries you’re at risk for really come down to how your muscles work together when you run. A comprehensive run assessment specifically analyzes your body’s mechanics as you run. An assessment can be done for runners of all levels—from someone just starting out who’s unsure of the right way to move to elite athletes who are trying to avoid re-injury. Using a video analysis will give your physical therapist real-time insight into your range of motion, gait, and posture. They’ll focus on observing how hard your feet strike, how much you bend your knees, and your footwork as you push off. They’ll also be able to see if you’re stronger on one side of your body compared to the other. Any asymmetries in the muscles of your legs might be affecting your stride. If you overstride or lean too far forward when you run, your physical therapist will be able to adjust your form.
Locate Those Weak Points
After a video analysis is complete, your physical therapist can focus on problem areas that were observed in your run form. They’ll do a thorough musculoskeletal exam to see where you need to increase range of motion and develop more strength and flexibility. If you’ve had a previous injury, the analysis also takes this into account by determining how at risk you are for reinjury. For example, if you’ve sprained your ankle in the past, any ankle instability you still have might be affecting how well you’re able to control your balance while landing on the unstable ankle. Your body can often compensate further up the chain in your knees, hips, back, or upper body.
To counteract the impact of running, it’s not only about having strong muscles surrounding your knees. You also need strength and mobility in your hips, spine, and core. Based on how you move, your physical therapist will be able to tell if you have weakness in your glutes or if you’re too tight in your hips. Without adequate strength and flexibility, you could be compensating by putting too much pressure on your knees as your run. It’ll also help keep you light on your feet by balancing the amount of force your body absorbs.
Prevent While You Train
With a sport like running, it’s all about keeping your body’s movements synchronized and efficient. Otherwise, your feet, knees, and hips will be dealing with the majority of the impact. Even small twinges of pain in your knees or shins are warning signs that point to your form being off. Based on the findings of your run analysis, your physical therapist will do a more in-depth musculoskeletal assessment and likely begin treatment during that session. This might include manual therapy on any injured joints or muscles, instruction for at-home exercises to help correct problems seen on the video running analysis, or provide a running plan to help you achieve your distance or race goals. A run assessment is the first component of treatment. Baseline measurements about your range of motion, strength, and flexibility are collected during your analysis. That data is used to drive your custom treatment plan specific to how you move. Make sure you focus on injury prevention as much as you focus on hard training. Don’t try and run off those aches.