As 50 million people have made running the number one sport in North America, the number of injuries they suffer continues to mount. Unfortunately, research shows that about half of all runners will be injured each year. That’s millions of injuries, and science has had to step up its game to help these athletes reach the finish line.
For an injured runner, some form of gait analysis can lead to an understanding of how their running mechanics are related to the injury. Across North America, there are only four or five universities that offer some type of three-dimensional (3D) scientific gait analysis for runners. However, with the assistance and support of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research and Alberta Ingenuity, the ability to get a 3D gait analysis is becoming easier.
For the past five years, researchers at the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary have been developing the 3D Gait Analysis System. Since 2010, the system has been introduced into private physiotherapy clinics across Canada to give runners a scientific biomechanical gait assessment. A runner’s biomechanics are compared to the average of thousands of runners with the same injury and healthy runners who are injury-free. Based on this comparison, the runner receives an Injury Index score based on how they rank. From the 3D data, a comprehensive report helps the physiotherapist to zero in on the potential causes of injury.
From this report, a tailored rehabilitation program is developed to address the impairments identified in the injured runner. Based on the biomechanical conclusions drawn from the 3D gait analysis, the runner is given a program that addresses the issues surrounding his or her running injury. Research institutions such as the Federal University of Brazil, AUT University in New Zealand, and Oxford University in England are assisting in the development of the program.
This emerging research is providing the ability to predict who might be at risk for injury. The ability to predict injury may seem a bit far-fetched, but the development of the world’s largest running injury database is central to this initiative. Data collected on injured and non-injured runners are sent to the research database at the University of Calgary. The data are sorted by injury type, and the researchers can investigate what characteristics are most common to a particular type of injury, and ultimately the causes of those injuries.
Research studies are continuing to investigate the biomechanical factors that give rise to common running injuries, including knee injuries such as patellofemoral pain syndrome and iliotibial band syndrome, foot injuries such as plantar fasciitis, and shin splints. This research has led to advances in treatment including innovative strengthening exercises and the novel approach of using real-time 3D biomechanical feedback to change the way you run and help to prevent future injuries.
Dr. Reed Ferber is Director of the Running Injury Clinic and an Associate Professor at the University of Calgary. He holds a Ph.D. in biomechanics and is a certified athletic therapist and a Population Health New Investigator through the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. Visit runninginjuryclinic.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See it in action: The following video was taken at Nova Physiotherapy in Bedford, Nova Scotia, and Claire Rogers is set up on the 3D gait analysis system. See how it works: