This week’s spotlight is on Victoria. She is a rockstar collegiate runner who has had bilateral hip pain and achilles pain. Her pain has made it difficult to train and compete over the last year. Originally, she began experiencing hip pain after performing lateral lunges. The achilles pain had a progressive onset several months later. Most of these videos are taken several weeks into treatment, so she has already made progress. Here is footage of her running.
I apologize for the video not being very close-up, but we can make it work! The biggest things that jump out to me are the hard landings/slow push-off of both feet, as well as her high and tensed arm swing on both sides. There is a little excessive hip motion side to side also.
Upon more thorough assessment, we found deficits in her hips’ external rotation, as well as limited inversion of her rearfoot(heel bone) both right and left. How do these findings translate to running form? With hip motion, as your leg swings through it is primarily going through flexion, but on a more subtle level it is also externally rotating. As the foot hits the ground, there needs to be enough margin in the flexibility to allow the muscles to load further to accept body weight onto that leg. If you’ve used up the flexion/external rotation too quickly, than the glut muscles are not able to properly accept the load, which means something further up the chain must do that. Enter the high and tensed arm swing. While running, our arms serve mostly as a way to counterbalance our lower extremities and load the core from above to allow for overall improved efficiency. This also opens up another discussion on the core that we’ll get into at a later time. In brief, think of your core as a pivot point for the body. With running, that pivot point should be relatively close to your pelvis and lower abdominal area. For Victoria, her pivot point was much higher, closer to her upper back, which is why her arms have to work so hard to give the counterbalance her lower body needs to move forward. She also has struggled with neck, shoulder, and upper back tightness for some time.
Her feet also need addressing, as the inability of her heels to invert, translates to a poor transition from loading of the foot to pushing off. In order to push off well, we need to be able to pry our heel off the ground, while the foot and calf are in a loaded position (dorsiflexed). Hopefully that makes sense, I think a more thorough video on this specific topic may be forthcoming! Anyway, here is what we did to improve the foot mechanics. Notice that she is in a traditional calf stretch position, but the focus of the exercise is to rotate the lower leg to unplant the heel, without actually lifting the heel up. In the video, I’m assisting the movement, but it can be done without help.
We also did a stretch for the posterior hip. It’s most helpful to do it in two stages, first the rotation of the hips, which is shown very briefly at the beginning, and secondly the forward trunk lean.
After these active stretches and movement exercises. We took to the pavement to work on form drills. Rather than focus on feet and lower extremity stuff, we monkeyed with her arm position to see how this affected the rest of her.
These types of drills are helpful for developing better core control while running. As discussed above, the core should be a pivot point between the upper and lower bodies. Where exactly that pivot point is can make a huge difference when it comes to running more or less efficiently, as well as with or without pain. For Victoria, her pivot point was way too high. This isn’t something that can just be consciously corrected, so a way to monkey with this is to put her arms in an extreme position. This forces her body to establish a difference pivot point, because the arms are no longer able to counterbalance as they had been. Ultimately this forces her hips to work more efficiently because they can’t pass the buck higher up the chain as they were previously.
Comparing the videos with her hands to the right and left respectively, it’s helpful to note that her hips looked more efficient with her hands to the right. This can reveal Right-Left imbalances as well, though we focused on both sides equally today.
After these drills, here is another video of her running. Again, all the running videos were taken after we had already improved hip and foot motion, so the change isn’t as dramatic, but still very important.
Notice her arms are more relaxed and there is less hip side to side motion. With continued focus on more efficiency with her transition from load to push-off, and working on core stability/mechanics as mentioned above, she will continue to make gains over the coming weeks. Great job Victoria!