Gearing up for the Coffs Coast Running Festival? If you plan to be hitting the pavement, make sure your feet are set for success.
“The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone’s connected to the knee bone…” Remember that children’s song?
When you walk, you put the force of as much as five times your body weight on each foot, and that forces rises as you increase your speed. If the foot doesn’t absorb that shock and redistribute it properly, you can develop problems in your ankles, knees, hips, back and even the neck and head.
Your gait cycle is what determines how well your feet are able to cope with the force of walking and running.
A complete gait cycle begins when one foot makes contact with the ground and ends when that same foot makes contact with the ground again.
The cushioning phase of the gait cycle is when the foot first lands on the ground. The knee flexes just before the foot hits and the foot pronates (rolls in). Pronation causes the foot and leg to act as shock absorbers.
The midstance or support phase is when the other foot is off the ground, so all of your body weight is being borne by a single leg. This has a flattening effect on the arch of the foot. The plantar fascia, the connective tissue that stretches across the arch of your foot, is designed to support the foot and resist excessive arch flattening.
The propulsion phase begins immediately as the heel lifts off the ground. As the big toe lifts, the foot rotates outwards (supinates) placing most of your weight on the outside of your foot and the plantar fascia tightens, helping to raise the arch. This creates a rigid lever to propel you forward into the swing phase, when the foot lifts off the ground.
With some people the structure of their foot and ankle, weakness of certain muscles or even the way they have learned to run can cause the foot to roll in or roll out too much, causing strain on the body.
To provide shock absorption, your foot needs to roll in (or pronate) when it first hits the ground. However, if it rolls in too much, or over pronates, this causes the arches to collapse and the foot to elongate. This unnatural elongation puts excessive strain on the ligaments, muscles and nerves in the foot.
Over time, the ongoing elongation of the foot may stretch the plantar fascia, causing inflammation and heel pain. You may also experience discomfort in the arch and sole of the foot. But it doesn’t stop there. Overpronation puts extra stress on the knees, shins, thighs and pelvis, which in turn puts additional strain on the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the lower leg.
As you move into the propulsion phase, your foot naturally rotates outwards or supinates. If the foot rolls outward too much (or over supinates) this places a large strain on the muscles and tendons that stabilise the ankle, leading to ankle sprains, IT band syndrome, Achilles tendonitis and often knee or hip pain.
The first thing you should do is to have your gait analysed. Don’t rely on someone simply watching you. Even the most experienced practitioner can’t spot abnormalities in the fraction of a second that your foot is in contact with the ground when you walk or run.
Seek out a computerized scanning system that will provide a detailed analysis of your feet and how they move. At Mid North Coast Physio we use GaitScan, which records timing and pressure distribution as you walk across a pressure plate, giving a clear and detailed picture of your foot mechanics.
Armed with this information you can make considered decisions about what to do next.
Some of the abnormalities picked up in your gait scan can be compensated for with the right running shoes. A stable, cushioned shoe can help mild over pronation. Over supinators will do better in a more neutral or lightweight shoe.
If your biomechanical problems are severe or you are already experiencing foot pain your physiotherapist may talk to you about shoe insoles or custom orthotics. Shoe insoles are designed to create a solid foundation for the body and correct or prevent foot abnormalities. There are many different shapes and sizes available over the counter. But the best solution is usually custom-made orthotics that precisely fit your foot.
One of the easiest and most effective improvements you can make to your form is to take shorter and quicker steps as you run. This prevents over striding, which often exacerbates the biomechanical problems caused by over pronation or supination.
Exercises to strengthen your feet (especially your big toe) and ankles can help reduce the risk of injury and even correct some bio-mechanical abnormalities. Calf raises, single leg hops and barefoot yoga are all effective. Use a resistance band to dorsiflex your foot, bringing your toes closer to your shin and plantar flex, pointing the foot away from the shin. A good physiotherapist or exercise physiologist will be able to provide you with a personalised exercise regime.
If you’d like to have a thorough analysis of your gait pattern and reduce the risk of injury, take up our current offer of a FREE computerised Gaitscan assessment. Click here for more information and to sign up for an appointment.
This article was created as part of the Your Health Experts program. We are working with other local health experts to bring you the tips, advice and information you need to lead a healthy life. To make sure you get all this great information subscribe to our monthly mini-mag and follow us on Facebook.
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