Running Away From a Painful Gait

Do you run like a gazelle, or do you stomp around like an elephant? You may blame it on the shoes, however, the truth of the matter is it might not be the shoes that affect your running. It’s how you run and not the over-priced shoes you bought from the angsty teenager selling to get a commission.

Running Style for Intermediate to Advanced Runners: Midfoot vs. Forefoot Strike
According to the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy December 2011, there is tangible evidence that a midfoot strike (contact somewhere in the middle of your foot) to a forefoot strike (ball of foot) while running will decrease the impact on your joints as opposed to heel striking which can make the runner more susceptible to injury. Now, I’m not saying to change your gait immediately and run 10 miles on your forefoot or midfoot. When you adjust your running gait, you should experiment at a gradual pace to let your legs adapt, otherwise you may end up with the injury you were trying to avoid.

For an example of a midfoot and forefoot strike, check out this slow-motion video exposing the running styles of Boston Marathon Champions from 2011:

Niell Elvin. (2011, April 18). Boston Men 2011 Men’s Winner Slow Motion- World Fastest Time.

In the video, you can see one runner, the man in the red and black singlet, is a forefoot striker. Another runner, in the green singlet, contacts the ground with his midfoot. Both styles are advantageous over contacting the heel first, which can lead to patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band friction syndrome, knee meniscal injuries, etc. Notice how they both have a slight forward lean, which decreases impact loading on the lower legs, another technique to practice when trying to avoid injury. A shorter stride length is also recommended, making one less likely to hit the heel first. Another suggestion to promote a safer gait is to find a song with a constant beat that matches your pace to promote symmetrical foot striking.

Tip for New Runners: Start Good Habits from the first Step
• Start with a program designed for a beginning runner to build slowly and use the gait tips mentioned above to keep running safer and pain-free.
• Go slowly. Listen to your body for signs of pain.
• Increase your distance by no more than 10% a week.
• After each day you run, schedule a rest and recovery day.
• Stretch after a workout to increase elasticity and prevent stiffness in your legs.
• Pay attention to any problems that arise. There might be weaknesses, range-of-motion impairments and/or structural issues in your lower body that might be affecting your running gait. See a physical therapist to have these issues properly identified and addressed with therapeutic interventions to achieve a healthier running gait.

Everyone, from the very beginner to the experienced marathoner, can benefit from examining their gait from time to time to see if any habits exist that could potentially cause injury. Pain is your body telling you something is wrong and needs to be addressed. Adjusting your running style within moderation and good physiological reasoning could prevent you from grabbing ice packs and downing ibuprofen at the end of a race.

Disclaimer: Running is never without some risk of injury. Listen to your body and stop to rest if you need it. STOP if you have any pain. Some runners are born with moderate to severe foot deformities that need supportive shoes or custom orthotics. Please consult your physician or physical therapist if you currently have pain in the leg, foot, or back.

Looking for a physical therapist? Renato Hess offers one hour, one-on-one physical therapy sessions. For more information on physical therapy services, please visit the Physical Therapy page or Renato’s website.