Hitting the right stride
Runners find it perplexing when regular workouts lead to a series of what can be debilitating aches and pains. But specialists point out that many of these problems can be avoided or cured by a change of running shoe, an adjustment of gait and effective stretching.
“By the nature of what we do, how many miles we go out and run, we’re going to get injured to some degree,” said Esther Schwier, leader of a local trail running group. “People that run, particularly people that run longer distances, are constantly putting a lot of strain on their bodies.”
Runners often wait until that strain reaches the point of chronic pain, or even debilitation before they acknowledge it, at which point they consult a doctor or chiropractor.
“What I’m finding with some people I see is, they don’t even need chiropractic care,” said Dr. Ivo Waerlop, of Summit Chiropractic and Rehabilitation, who recently conducted a runner’s clinic for Schwier’s group. “Their problem is strictly biomechanical. We get their biomechanics straightened out, and the person does much better.”
Waerlop pointed out that a runner’s gait can be broken down into “stance” and “swing,” each of which are built of various movements, any of which could throw off the overall gait and cause injury if done a certain way.
Parts of stance when walking include heelstrike, when the heel hits the ground; midstance, when the foot is rolling from heel strike and flat on the ground; full forefoot load, which occurs right before picking the heel up; heel lift; and toe off, when the runners pushes off of the toes for propulsion.
When runners come to Waerlop’s office complaining of chronic hip, knee or back pain, he can sometimes immediately determine the root of the problem by watching their feet as they walk or run on a treadmill.
“It gives us clues about where there might be a basic problem,” he said. “When you look at where someone’s mechanics are at, you have to ask, “Does that relate to complaints they might have?'”
The heelstrike phase uses the muscles in the back of the leg to slow down, and the shin muscles to lower the foot slowly. Shin splints can originate when the heel comes down too heavily. In midstance, the foot pronates as it moves out of the heelstrike, rotating the lower part of the body inward. This is where pain might originate in the feet, knees and hips. With the full forefoot load, weight is transferred from the back of the foot to the front, and calf pain and Achilles pain can prevail. In the the toe off phase, the heel might leave the ground too quickly as the toes push off, which would indicate tight hip flexors.
Like dominos, these muscles could cause other irregularities in stride, leading to pains and injuries elsewhere in the body.
“We’ll see people with chronic upper back problems, and, until you address their feet, they’ll never be 100 percent better, Waerlop said. “Those muscle groups (used in a gait) are very important. If they are very tight, or people just don’t stretch enough, they need to get their body in better balance.”
The first remedy to “fixing” an irregular gait is stretching. Waerlop says that people must hold a stretch for 30 seconds for it to be effective, and they should repeat each stretch three times a day. If a runner is having a problem that requires a lengthening of the muscle, the necessary stretch should be held for 30 minutes.
While runners typically stretch quadriceps and calves, Waerlop said important stretches that often escape athletes include hamstring, shin, Achilles, heel cord and knee stretches.
“A tight heel cord can be remedied by stretching,” he said. “There’s no way any problem will go away if people don’t stretch enough.”
Problems will also not go away if the runner is wearing a shoe that doesn’t provide enough stability or support. Foot ailments that occur with the wrong running shoes include bunions, hammer toes, blisters, corns.
“Most of us runners have spent so much money on shoes,” Schwier said. “I can’t tell you how many hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on shoes. But when we look at them, we don’t know what we’re looking for.”
Although a good shoe depends on the individual wearing it, Waerlop points out that some basic quality points to look for in any shoe are: A firm heel, a flex at the point where the big toe meets the foot, and torsional stability, meaning the shoe doesn’t bend easily when twisted with the hands.
He said people with high arches should get shoes that have plenty of cushion, and some runners, especially those who overpronate in their stride, will need orthotics.
“People don’t always need custom orthotics,” he said. “Before they look into that, they should buy a Sure Foot from the store and see how that works out.”
He said a shoe should break in after running 15-25 miles, and that the longer a shoe takes to break in, the more indicative it is that it is the wrong shoe.
He discourages brands that use air as their key sole component, and that serious runners should use a different pair of shoes to train in than the pair they use to race.
Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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