Get more out of running with gait analysis by a physical therapist

with advice from Heidi Beasley, PT
and Lori Francoeur, PT, MSPT, CSCS

Get more out of running with gait analysis by a physical therapist

As the fall marathon season approaches, with major races scheduled for Chicago on October 13 and New York on November 3, Physiquality will be publishing three consecutive posts on running and marathons. Our first post focused on choosing the right running shoe; be sure to stay tuned for our next post on training safely for a marathon.

In theory, running should be simple: Put on comfortable clothes. Tie shoes. Start running. But if you’re a runner that is tired of chronic injuries, like forefoot pain or shin splints, or one that is trying to accelerate to the next level, consider having a gait analysis done by a physical therapist.

What is gait analysis? According to Heidi Beasley, a physical therapist at Accelerated Rehab (a Physiquality member in Gilbert, Arizona), “It is an evaluation by a professional of your specific body mechanics as you move your body forward.” Gait analysis measures body movements and angles, body mechanics and muscle function. It can be used in sports training to identify problem areas, assess efficiency and treat areas of potential breakdown.

Gait analysis usually consists of watching the client in standing, walking and — for runners and other athletes — running positions.Gait analysis usually consists of watching the client in standing, walking and — for runners and other athletes — running positions. Heidi recommends that runners have their gait analyses done in environments similar to where they train, e.g., on a treadmill or outside. (If you’re an outdoor runner, try to find an area that simulates the type of ground on which you normally run; changing surfaces can increase your chance of injury and will also change your form and gait.) The trained observer will look for the unique quality of how your foot meets the ground, and how those forces are transmitted up through the rest of your body.

Some physical therapists use video and/or software to help with gait analysis. At Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy Centers, a Physiquality member with 18 locations throughout Arizona, PTs have set up a gait lab to analyze patients and clients. Physical therapist Lori Francoeur explains:

A treadmill is set up with one or multiple video cameras recording an individual walking or running from multiple angles. The athletes wear markers at various points of reference on the body, like the ankles, knees and hips. While the athlete walks or runs on the treadmill, the video is fed to a computer that assesses and measures movement angles, which are then used to calculate what’s going on at each joint.

However, Lori adds, not everyone needs a fancy gait lab or software for a thorough assessment. Just recording a runner on video can allow a clinician to play back the walk or run in slow motion, giving a better and clearer picture of what the athlete’s joints are doing throughout the gait cycle.

There are several outcomes from gait analysis that benefit runners:

  • Gait analysis can help clinicians recommend the proper running shoe.Gait analysis can help clinicians recommend the proper running shoe for your anatomy and stride. As we mentioned last time, choosing the right shoe is a key part of proper training and injury prevention. Knowing your specific running style and type of foot anatomy, Heidi notes, can lead to shoes that are less likely to lead to shin splints, plantar fasciitis and a plethora of other foot and lower extremity issues.

  • Gait analysis can determine whether orthotics or shoe inserts would be beneficial. Most running shoes include removable insoles, allowing runners to add customized orthotics or shoe inserts, which can stabilize your foot even more and reduce your chance of injury. (Learn more about orthotics from Physiquality partner program Vasyli.) Many physical therapists customize orthotics in their clinics; search for a Physiquality clinic in your area to see if there is one nearby.

  • Gait analysis can identify running abnormalities that can be corrected with proper exercise and/or stretching. Between stretching and strengthening underused muscles and correcting their running form, runners can reduce their chance of injury. In addition, Lori points out, such corrections can help athletes run more efficiently and improve their speed and running mechanics for better performance.

What’s the biggest reason to consult with a physical therapist for gait analysis? As Heidi points out, we all have a unique way of standing, walking and, most importantly, running. Advice that would be great for one runner may be detrimental to another. Only trained specialists like physical therapists have the knowledge to ascertain where running form could be improved or inserts might be beneficial. If you’re looking for a way to reduce your injury or improve your time, an hour or two with a physical therapist might be a good start.

Heidi Beasley, PT, is a physical therapist at Accelerated Rehab, a Physiquality network member in Gilbert, Arizona.
Lori Francoeur, PT, MSPT, CSCS Lori Francoeur, PT, MSPT, CSCS, is a physical therapist at the Ahwatukee location of Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy Centers, a Physiquality member with 18 locations throughout Arizona. A certified strength and conditioning specialist, Lori has worked as a physical therapist for more than 10 years, specializing in orthopedic and sports-related injuries.

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For further information, look through our selection of articles on running, in addition to the below links:

Choosing a running shoe. Physiquality, August 1, 2013.

Running inside: Things to keep in mind on a treadmill. Physiquality, November 1, 2012.

For runners only. Accelerated Rehab.

Shoe inserts and orthotics: Are they right for you? Physiquality, October 1, 2012.

Reynolds, Gretchen. Finding your ideal running form. New York Times, August 29, 2012.

Parker-Pope, Tara. Finding a sustainable running stride. New York Times, June 25, 2012.

Fitzgerald, Matt. Improving ankle stability for off-road running. Competitor Magazine, August 2011.

Proper running techniques. Physiquality, April 16, 2012.

Reynolds, Gretchen. Does foot form explain running injuries? New York Times, February 8, 2012.

Kolata, Gina. For runners, soft ground can be hard on the body. New York Times, July 18, 2011.

Reynolds, Gretchen. Are we built to run barefoot? New York Times, June 8, 2011.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.