Could gait analysis make you a more injury prone runner?
by Tina Muir Tina is a Saucony sponsored elite runner that has a strong passion for the road. She's been running for 14 years and moved to the United States in 2007 to run for a living. Tina has run a marathon in 2:37 and is the Community Manager at RunnersConnect.
If you ask a runner what causes injury, it will not be long before they mention that running in the wrong shoes puts them at a higher risk. Runners believe that by going to a specialized shoe store, where they are given a video gait analysis, they will be recommended the best shoe for their feet and all injuries will be a thing of the past. Right? Unfortunately, that is wrong. Most running stores genuinely want to help runners to find the best shoes for their mechanics and style, but the method they use might actually be putting athletes at a higher risk of injury. So, where are these running stores going wrong and how can we be better prepared while looking for our next pair of shoes? Well, we're going to show you. Remember the wet foot test?
To jump your memory, the idea was simple: you stand on a heat-sensitive pad and it'll tell you type of foot you have. However, there was actually never any real evidence to prove that this was a reliable way of measuring your gait. After all, the way you stand can be drastically different to the way you land while running. Even though most experts are now backtracking on their opinion of the wet foot test, there is still too much focus on the foot, a focus that does not, ultimately, translate into running. Those that assess video gait analysis will put runners into one of three categories: high, normal, or low arch. Or, alternatively, you may also recognize them as supinators, neutral, and overpronators. Depending on what you're told, these runners are typically given cushioned, stability, and motion control shoes respectively. Research has shown that runners cannot be categorized based off their arch height, as there are too many other factors that come into play.
Genetics and environment means that every runner has a unique physiology, which affects the way you run and, therefore, the shoes that are needed to support your style of running. However, at the end of the day, there is not yet a better option for runners. But remember this: when it comes to choosing the correct running shoes, the only factor that has remained is using comfort. This means putting a pair of shoes on and seeing how they feel on your feet -- no shortcuts! If you have the opportunity to take them out for a run, that will give you the best feedback. Believe me, if you try shoes out, you'll quickly know if they feel right for you.
Of course, it's not the most scientific method of choosing a pair of shoes, but if it feels good on your feet, then it's a good indicator that you're making the right choice. But what if you do want to use a video gait analysis to look at your running form? You must consider that if you're only looking at the feet, this is actually not a gait analysis, but, instead, foot analysis. This is usually where the expert will tell you that your arch is going too low or staying too high.
Once again, you will be given the term over-pronator, supinator, or neutral, which will result in the stability, motion control, or stability shoes. However, these terms should be a red flag to be careful, as this form of analysis has no scientific evidence behind it, which you can read more about in the study by Nielsen et al.: ‘Foot pronation is not associated with increased injury risk in novice runners wearing a neutral shoe’ (2013).
While the researchers are hard at work finding out what does work for assessing running form, this article may have highlighted that a video gait analysis might actually be doing you more harm than good. If you have the opportunity, get a full-body gait analysis, as this looks at your movements as a whole and shows how your injuries are actually due to compensations from other muscles that are weak or not firing correctly. A full-body gait analysis will look at how your muscles, tendons, and ligaments work together to product your unique running style, giving you better feedback on how you can make improvements to prevent injury.
Make sure you're not neglecting your hips as this is the most common area for weakness and can typically cause all sorts of injuries. Finally, remember that, for now, comfort may be your best bet for finding the right shoes for you. Try not to choose a shoe just because your friend loves them, but because they feel like the right fit. In the end, listen to your body, figure out what feels best to you, and stick to it.
For more articles by Tina, head to her personal blog or check her out on Runners Connect!