This article was written for, and originally posted to Athletic Lab PT’s blog.
Running is seemingly a simple activity: Put one foot in front of the other.
But the truth is, there’s nothing simple about the act of running. If you think about it, you’re actually hopping from one leg to the other, carrying the load of three-times your body weight on one foot with every step. That’s no easy feat — even if some runners make the process look effortless!
For these reasons, your running form is incredibly important. It can make the difference between avoiding and/or preventing injuries, and recovering from chronic aches and pains. It can even help you inch closer to that shiny new PR!
So, how can you identify problems with your running form — and once you find them, how do you address them?
That’s where a gait analysis comes in.
A gait analysis can identify biomechanical abnormalities in your running stride — in other words, any movements that could be compromising your ability to run in an injury-free and energy efficient way. It allows a physical therapist to take a measurable and quantifiable assessment of your run to optimize solutions for better movement and performance. It can also help recognize potential areas of weakness, providing simple facts about your running stride that can help you become a better runner in the future.
Curious if it’s right for you? Here are 6 things you can gain from a gait analysis:
1. Whether you’re a heel striker or forefoot striker
Whether you land on your heels, midfoot, or your forefoot is referred to as your footstrike, and there’s a longtime debate in the running community about which method is superior. Well, you can quit arguing: Neither method is “best.” But each style requires a different percentage of muscle strength. For example, a heel strike pattern puts a high demand on our quadriceps muscle — so if your quads are weak, but you consistently land on your heels, you might not be giving your body enough shock absorption to steer clear of future injuries.
Your physical therapist can help identify your foot strike pattern and then come up with a treatment plan to help strengthen the muscles necessary to sustain that pattern.
Knowing your foot strike pattern can also help your physical therapist recommend certain footwear and shoe styles that work better for your individual needs.
2. If you pronate, supinate, or have a neutral running style
Some runners tend to rely more heavily on the inside of their foot (pronators), while others land more naturally on the outside (supinators). During a gait analysis, your physical therapist can identify which category you fall into, then develop a therapeutic intervention (including exercises!) to strengthen your foot and avoid injury.
Your PT can also recommend shoes that may complement your foot positioning and provide additional support.
3. Your cadence
Running cadence, also called stride rate, refers to the number of steps per minute (SPM) you take as you run. Research shows that running cadence affects impact peak, kinematics, and kinetics of your run — all fancy terms which influence injury risk and recovery. Allowing a physical therapist to assess your cadence and find your optimal stride rate can both improve running economy, influence recovery, and prevent future injury.
4. Any outstanding muscle imbalances
Watching you run allows your physical therapist to identify movement patterns that may clue one in to muscular imbalances that are present, like a greater pelvic drop on one side compared to the other. By observing movement patterns and then testing the appropriate muscle strength, your physical therapist can come up with a strengthening program to avoid overuse and prevent future injury.
5. Room for improvement
By simply watching you run for a few minutes, a physical therapist can perform a movement analysis and identify areas of improvement in your running stride. For example, did you know that a slight forward trunk lean can decrease the load on your knees without affecting the load on your ankles?
If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort during a run, a gait analysis allows a physical therapist to identify potential causes of the problem. This makes it easy to help you implement solutions that can improve your chances of recovery.
6. A way to measure progress
Whether or not you’re experiencing pain or recovering from an injury, a gait analysis is a great way to determine where your running stride is currently at, so your PT can come up with a treatment plan that fits your needs. After several weeks and/or months of intervention, a future gait analysis can measure the progress you’ve made — allowing your PT to optimize your treatment plan to unlock movement efficiency potential.
So, where can you get a gait analysis, anyway? The physical therapists at Athletic Lab are happy to help.
Opportunities at your local running store may also exist, but having a gait analysis performed by a physical therapist will ensure a professional is looking out for your best interest