Biomechanics is more than just a running buzzword. Katherine Selby undertook a groundbreaking 3D biomechanical running analysis to discover more.
Biomechanics refers to the way your bones and joints move. Most runners encounter biomechanics when buying a new pair of running shoes, when you pop onto the running shop treadmill to be filmed before buying shoes based on your running style. While this is all well and good, it's the mere tip of the biomechanical iceberg and actually shows a tiny fraction of what's gong on as you run.
A biomechanical podiatrist will give you a more detailed analysis of your gait. They are highly trained in assessing your running style and identifying any biomechanical glitches that could be causing problems.
But the ultimate in biomechanical analysis is the new Run3D programme, which uses advanced technology to precisely measure the joint angles at your hips, knees and ankles in 3D. Twelve infrared cameras are carefully positioned to pick up the movement of reflective markers attached to your hips, legs, knees, ankles, and feet. This information is fed into a computer programme that develops a digital image of your gait and a detailed personalised biomechanical report.
Once the reflective markers are in place, you stand on the treadmill while the cameras measure your 'standing state'. Then you run at a steady pace while the cameras film. By the time you've stepped off the treadmill, your digital running legs model can be seen and within minutes, your Run3D analysis is complete.
I had my analysis done while nursing an iliotibial band injury. Immediately I could see my hip movement was a major cause for concern and my knee biomechanics needed attention.
The report includes graphs showing your motion graded against excessive, ideal, and reduced compared to a control database. Your legs are analysed individually and I was amazed to see the discrepancy between my left and right sides. The report is detailed for each area, measuring aspects such as pronation, rotation, flexion, collapse, and velocity. It sounds complicated, but Run3D presents everything in a condensed form with clear explanations.
'Biomechanical imbalance is particularly problematic for runners, due to the repetitive nature of distance running' says Dr. Jessica Leitch, who manages the Run3D programme at the Oxford Gait Laboratory. 'The cumulative effects of excessive stress and strain will eventually lead to greater problems and this is typically seen in people who increase the volume or intensity of their running'. An accomplished middle and long distance runner, Dr. Leitch is a font of knowledge and draws on her personal experience as well as her professional training when interpreting your biomechanical analysis.
The Run3D analysis arms you with plenty of information and revealed the likely cause being my pelvis dropping excessively on the left as I run. This could be clearly seen in diagrammatic form and was borne out by the full analysis. My physio went straight to work on that area, saving us both time and effort.
Finding the Cause
While physios will start with an injury and work ' backwards' to find the cause, Run3D will pick up the likely root problem, so you can work 'forwards' from there. Its ability to spot even subtle problems give a unique insight into injury.
'Run3D measures movements that can't be seen by the human eye' explains Dr. Leitch.
Andrew Stanley, podiatrist and running biomechanics specialist at the Rebound Clinic (www.reboundclinic.co.uk) sees many runners with knee pain, plantar fasciitis (heel pain), metatarsalgia (lower front foot pain) and Achilles tendinopathy/tendonitis. Andrew believes biomechanical analysis is best applied before an injury occurs.
'It's frustrating to see running injuries that could have been avoided if biomechanical imbalances had been addressed earlier' he says.
Dr. Leitch agrees. ' We help many injured runners, but our ultimate goal is to encourage a proactive approach, so that we prevent problems starting in the first place,' she says.
For the cost of a fancy sports watch, you could have a superbly detailed picture of your running style from Run3D. Failing that, booking a specialist biomechanical analysis is definitely a step in the right direction.