Running Form Analysis On A Triathlete With Back and Ankle Pain

by Eric Oliver, PT

Background

CLIENT is a triathlete training for his first half-Ironman.  He contacted Beyond Exercise with the goal of identifying faults in his joint mobility, strength, and movement with the hope of managing his intermittent (but chronic) low back pain while at the same time reducing his risk of injury during the rest of his training cycle.  CLIENT has not previously had his running mechanics evaluated nor has he undergone a runner-specific movement and strength evaluation.

Exam Results

The physical exam found movement and strength deficits, and the run analysis revealed that he ran with a forward flexed posture, a long step length, heel strike, and adequate step cadence.  He was given specific exercises to improve upon his weaknesses and to prepare his muscles and tendons for the changes in his running form.  He was also given specific instructions on how to apply the run changes and drills so as to not cause injury to himself.  

Outcome

The follow-up visit was scheduled 1 1/2 weeks later to review his exercises and running form during which an improvement in his running form was noted.  The form drills and one-on-one coaching significantly improved CLIENT's foot strike and posture without change to his cadence.

Reducing his step length and optimizing his posture will aide in reducing stress to the ankle and back.  At the follow-up visit, CLIENT did not report any exacerbation of his symptoms.  Running his normal pace felt easier, but due to muscles working differently he was not able to run his typical duration.

Plan

CLIENT will perform his drills, strength and mobility assignments, and carefully implement the new running changes into his existing training being careful to monitor his body's response.  He will follow-up with the evaluating physical therapist on an as needed basis leading up to his half-Ironman.  We will re-evaluate his body and movement after the race to create a comprehensive off-season training plan that will build from this foundation.

Left image @ Initial Run Analysis.  Right Image @ Follow-up Visit. Left image = Heel strike, long step length.  Right image = Midfoot strike, short step length.  Note: The arm, hand, and left leg are positioned in the exact position for each image, indicating that the image from the follow-up visit was captured at the same initial moment of contact as the image from the initial analysis.

Left image @ Initial Run Analysis.  Right Image @ Follow-up Visit.

Left image = Heel strike, long step length.  Right image = Midfoot strike, short step length.  Note: The arm, hand, and left leg are positioned in the exact position for each image, indicating that the image from the follow-up visit was captured at the same initial moment of contact as the image from the initial analysis.

CLIENT had a step cadence of 180-184 at both the initial evaluation AND at the follow-up visit.  (**Increasing cadence does not always automatically improve your mechanics**)  Cuing and appropriate drill assignments improved his legs' position to transfer force into the ground and to set up a more optimal foot strike with the other leg.

CLIENT had a step cadence of 180-184 at both the initial evaluation AND at the follow-up visit.  (**Increasing cadence does not always automatically improve your mechanics**)  Cuing and appropriate drill assignments improved his legs' position to transfer force into the ground and to set up a more optimal foot strike with the other leg.