Benefits of a Running Gait AnalysisSep 05, 2022
Running may seem like a simple task, but there are a lot of complexities when it comes to mechanics and efficiency.
When you run, you are actually hopping from one leg to the other, carrying a load of 3 times your body weight on one foot with every step. It’s not as simple as it sounds and that load can add up. On top of that, your running mechanics can have an impact on how much load is being put on your joints.
Your running form is especially important. Better running form can improve your efficiency with running (which will improve your performance), help you avoid or prevent injuries, and allow you to recover from aches and pains.
How do you know if your running form needs improvement? How do you address issues with your running form?
A running gait analysis is a helpful tool to analyze your running form to identify specific areas that need improvement.
A video analysis of your running form provides a measurable and quantifiable assessment of your mechanics. We can use these findings to provide highly specific interventions to achieve optimal results. We call this the “assess, don’t guess” method. You shouldn’t just try things you see on social media. Rather, it’s more beneficial to identify and address the faults that you demonstrate on a running gait analysis.
Here are 6 benefits of a running gait analysis.
1. Foot Strike Pattern
Your foot strike pattern refers to what part of your foot you land on when running. This is classified as rearfoot (heel strike), midfoot, or forefoot (toe strike).
There’s some debate as to which pattern is the best, but as with most things, it depends. Some things to consider are if you are able to strike the ground close to your center of mass (in line with your body), if you are overstriding, and if you have the muscular strength and endurance to support your foot strike pattern. For example, a rearfoot strike tends to pair with overstriding (not good) and puts a higher demand on our quads, which means if your quads are weak or fatigue easily then you may not have enough shock absorption to support your knee.
A video analysis will show us your striking pattern and we can determine if this needs to be modified based on the rest of the assessment. Sometimes, we look to change the strike pattern. Sometimes, we look to strengthen specific muscles to support your current pattern. A lot of times, it’s a little of both.
Your foot strike pattern may also lead us to a deeper look at your footwear to determine if a specific shoe style may work better for you.
2. Foot Control (Pronated, Supinated, or Neutral Foot)
Some runners tend to land more on the inside of their foot (pronators), some tend to land on the outside of their foot (supinators), and some land right in the middle (neutral).
This can be related to the mobility of your ankle and foot joints, muscle imbalances, compensation for pain/injury, and/or a few other things. We can take this information and cross reference it with the rest of your evaluation to develop a specific exercise program to strengthen your muscles to support your foot with running and walking. We can also figure out if limited mobility is playing a role to give you specific stretches to allow your foot to move more freely.
Again, this may lead us to take a deeper look at your footwear to determine if a specific shoe style may work better for you.
3. Cadence (Stride Rate)
Cadence refers to the number of steps per minute (SPM) you take as you run. Research has been very clear that cadence affects your running mechanics, ground reaction forces (amount of force you put on the ground – and the ground puts back on you), and risk of running-related injuries.
We can assess your cadence and work to find your optimal stride rate to improve your running efficiency and reduce your risk of injury.
4. Muscle Imbalances
Watching you run allows your physical therapist to identify movement patterns linked to specific muscle imbalances. For example, if we see a significantly greater pelvic drop on one side, this may lead us to think your hip abductors (glutes) could be weaker on that side. We’ll still want to test this to confirm, but either they are weak or you are not using them properly.
Identifying and treating specific muscle imbalances will help normalize your running gait and help you feel better.
5. Improvements from Feedback
We are able to analyze your running in real time. If we make a change to your running, we can keep the video going and compare the findings with your original (natural) running form.
If we see a few faults that could be improved, assessing your running form with feedback can be very helpful to figure out where to start. For example, if we give you feedback and cues to adjust your foot strike pattern, we can record your “new” running form and compare with the original to see if it got better, worse, or didn’t change. Sometimes, just a few external cues go a long way.
6. Measure Progress
We can do future assessments to track your progress and refine our treatment strategies. Awareness of the problems is the first step. Then, we need to modify the variables and then retest to make sure we are getting the desired outcomes.
Repeat video analyses are helpful to visualize if the changes are making lasting results and can also help identify any new issues that could arise.
Corey Hall, PT, DPT