A couple of days after running the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in Grand Rapids—Emma and I both ran, our second 13.1 together, her third overall—my body is feeling it. In fact, I felt some aches and pains during this race, too, which surprised me a little since I had decided to treat this race as a long training run, not a race (my goal race is the Bayshore Marathon, in another month). We slowed our pace, found a comfortable groove, had fun high-fiving the little kids cheering on runners, and didn’t push it—until the final half mile, when we kicked it in and sprinted toward the finish.

But I wasn’t entirely taken aback by my cranky left ankle and tight calves, if I’m being honest. And I say this not just because I am in week 14 of the advanced Hansons Marathon Method plan, i.e. logging some pretty significant mid-week miles in the form of (increasingly longer) tempo runs in addition to tough speed/strength workouts. Over the past few months, I’ve come to realize I have specific areas of my body that are particularly tight and/or weak, leading to the issues I have been dealing with both in my lower legs/feet and in my right hip.

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Runners tend to get an idea of their troubled spots body-wise over time. For me, I’ve come to expect things like a tighter, less flexible right side compared to my left, and a twinge-y lower back when I’ve missed a few too many Pilates sessions. I’ve also had my share of running injuries over the last decade, and as a result have learned what forms of treatment (Active Release Technique) and common sense approaches (rest, drink more water, sleep a whole lot more) seem to work best. Recently, though, I got an even closer look at my biomechanics, having undergone a 3D Gait Analysis at Holland Hospital’s Bone & Joint Center.

Awhile back I was contacted by a couple of gait analysis technicians at the center—Amy Keizer and Chelsea Walter, both runners themselves—about this service. While I have done a gait analysis in the past, this would be the first time I experienced one in 3D. I jumped at the chance to have them take a peek at my running form (and to please let me know how I could get rid of a seemingly not-going-anywhere-anytime-soon tender achilles/calf on my right side. And a new ailment: sore right hip.)

Some quick background on Holland Hospital Sports Medicine 3D Gait Analysis: it evaluates your personal running or walking form to identify your potential risk of injury and provide recommendations to prevent future injuries. Holland Hospital is the only hospital in West Michigan that offers this break-through technology, which uses three high-definition cameras to record and map your body’s movement while you walk or run on a treadmill. Data helps our medical staff identify movement patterns that may be causing your pain, or help you to correct your movements to prevent future injury.

I spent a day earlier this spring with Amy and Chelsea, as well as sports medicine physician Dr. Courtney Erickson-Adams, at the Bone & Joint Center in Holland. For several minutes I ran on a treadmill, a screen featuring my skeleton self, in 3D, mounted on the wall in front of me. It mirrored each step I took. Sensors placed in different spots on my body made this possible, and as I ran, Chelsea and Amy watched, letting me know when I needed to pick up the pace a little and when to slow it down. All the while, “scientific measures of several biomechanical gait variables were collected and compared to the center’s ever-growing normative database.” I’d later get a detailed breakdown of my individual measures and how they compare to this database. {More on this in a minute…}

On the treadmill, about to start the 3D gait analysis. That’s Chelsea Walter, gait analysis technician, standing next to me.

My legs!

 

There are two different schools of thought in gait re-training, I learned. One is based on verbal cues to trigger you to change certain aspects of your gait while running. This typically takes multiple visits to a specialized running coach over several months and is difficult to sustain when you are not being cued. The second, which the team at Holland Hospital’s Bone and Joint Center recommends, is based on optimizing your particular way of running by strengthening and/or stretching specific areas where you are weak and/or tight to assist your muscles in controlling your joints when running.

Improving your strength and/or flexibility in deficient areas does actually change your running mechanics over time, making you less prone to injury, they told me. This is much more sustainable and allows you to run in the way that is most natural for you.

The good news: if the personalized plan of stretching and strengthening is followed correctly, you will notice a decrease in your pain and a more efficient gait in 2-6 weeks based on research out of the running injury clinic.

So with that info, and knowing that running injuries are caused by an abnormality in any one or combination of the four measured variables, or puzzle pieces—biomechanics (how you run), strength, alignment and flexibility—here’s some more detail on what my 3D Gait Analysis revealed:

  • My “ankle score” is the most outside of normal. I also have a few other areas of motion that are outside of normal that could lead to injury. (A runner with perfect biomechanics would score close to 100 on each of the “joint puzzle pieces”—I scored 11 on the ankle puzzle piece. Uh-oh. I have some rehab work ahead of me…)
  • We all need to have “just enough” range of motion to absorb the shock wave that travels up our body each time our foot strikes the ground. We don’t want too much or too little—just enough motion. For me, the areas that are most in the excessive range of motion are my time to peak pronation (meaning I am staying pronated too long), right tibial rotation velocity, left peak knee rotation and right peak hip rotation.
  • My rehab, thankfully, is pretty straightforward based on these findings, I am told. (Whew.) I need to strengthen the following muscles to better control these areas: ankle invertors (ankle stabilizer muscle to help pull me out of pronation quicker), hip external rotators (to oppose the excessive right hip internal rotation that i am showing), and hamstrings (to better control the excessive tibial rotation velocity).

This is a lot to take in, admittedly. But Chelsea and Amy and Dr. Erickson-Adams are incredibly kind and helpful and take the time to not only go over my report but also answer my questions.

Me, Chelsea and Amy…having fun post-gait analysis.

I am given a strength plan, with specific and simple exercise movements using a stretchy band—hip external rotator strengthening, hamstring curl and ankle invertor strengthening. Ideally, the program should be followed on a daily basis for 4-6 weeks.

Back home, I started out strong following this program but haven’t been staying up on it as well as I should…which may be why I have experienced the aches and pains I have lately, especially as I move full steam ahead with my marathon training plan. I’m going to get myself back on this exercise regime, though.

I also learn that a neutral shoe is my best choice (this is the kind of shoe I have been using) and my stride rate/cadence is just below average—the goal is to be in the 160-180 beats per minute range. This is something I’ve been working on for awhile now, so I’ll continue to strive toward shorter strides.

Amy and me after my 3D Gait Analysis. She is also following the Hansons Marathon plan and had the same workout as me the day I was in Holland. I was so happy she asked me join her for our speed workout—it definitely was more bearable with her by my side! Thank you, Amy!

If you’ve ever wondered about gait analysis and how it could benefit your running, I’d highly recommend checking out this service. If you’re in west Michigan this week, Holland Hospital is hosting a free live demonstration, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. this Thursday, April 27 at the Bone & Joint Center, Holland Hospital Lakeshore Medical Campus. Learn more by registering here or call 616.738.3884. Also: stay tuned for an upcoming podcast episode featuring my conversation with the team at the 3D Gait Analysis. Coming soon!

Have you ever experienced a gait analysis? What did you learn about your running form?

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