It all starts with a strong foundation. You need to know what type of foot you have in order to ensure you are wearing the proper shoe. Just because you have a GOOD shoe does not mean that you have the RIGHT shoe for your foot.
Although there can be a variety of unique foot shapes, people generally fall into one of these categories:
So how do you figure out your foot type?
Get into a squat or other weight-bearing position barefoot in front of the mirror and examine the inside of your feet. Do you have high arches or do they collapse toward the ground? Are there somewhere in between? You should be able to stick a finger under the inner portion of your foot with a neutral arch, generally a couple fingers with a high arch. If you have a low arch or flat foot, you cannot do this. If you can't tell right away you can look at one of your footprints to determine arch height.
If you have a high arch you will also be a supinator, meaning your ankle rolls outward. If you're flat footed, you’re a pronator and your ankle rolls inward.
Now that you know your foot type you can decide which type of shoe best suits your foot. Within each good brand of shoe are subtypes that are designed relative to your ankle’s position. For example, Asics GT-2000 and New Balance 860v10 are designed for overpronation (low arch), Asics Evoride for a neutral arch, and Brooks Levitate for oversupination (high arch). (Butler, 2006)
An important way to make sure you are not causing more pain when running is to reduce the force your foot makes with the ground as much as possible. When you make contact with the ground, try to land lightly on your midfoot to forefoot. If you sound like an elephant stomping on the treadmill, understand that you’re throwing your leg towards the ground and you’re not in good control. Those hard hitting impact forces translate to your knee, hip, & back. Envision running on water or on a cloud; be light footed. (Daoud, et al., 2012)
Small increases in step rate can significantly reduce the loading directed to the hip and knee joints during running and may reduce injury risk. A longer stride may be more efficient but will cause a reduction in step rate and increased mechanical loading at the hip and knee. Furthermore, overextending yourself for a longer stride can strain muscles and put them in a position of active insufficiency where they can no longer contract for moments during toe off and heel strike phases of running. (Heiderscheit et al., 2011)
Your calves and glutes are some of the primary muscles that propel you forward while running. If the glute max is weak, runners will over-activate their quads, which can lead to pain around your kneecap and joint line, or hamstrings, which can lead to a strain. If your glute med is weak, you may run into TFL overactivation and hip bursitis or IT band friction syndrome and patella tracking issues. A single leg bridge, lateral recumbent hip abduction, and prone hip extension are great places to start. (Bartlett et al., 2014)
Perform a select set of 3-4 yoga/stretching positions that you feel the greatest stretch with and try to stretch 2-3 muscles simultaneously. Try to hold the position for at least 30 seconds. Common muscles that can be tight in runners are hamstrings and calves (downward facing dog), Lumbar paraspinals (child’s pose), hip flexors/quads (quad stretch/low lunge), and IT Band (horizon lunge). Try these several times a week, especially after your warm up/before heavy cardio activity. Being flexible will reduce resistance to muscle activation and thus improve muscle efficiency. (Bandy, Irion, 1994)
Wearing the proper shoes, being light footed, increasing step rate, and addressing flexibility and strength deficits can all reduce your chance of injury and can reduce pain affiliated with running. While these suggestions are evidence-based, there is no “one size fits all” approach to running. If pain persists, if you want to expedite your recovery, if you do not feel the stretch, if you are worried about the proper muscle activation patterns, it is highly advisable to seek professional guidance by a trained clinician as to avoid injury.
We believe the best way to become a better runner is to have your running mechanics analyzed by a licensed professional. At our Osteopractic physical therapy clinic, we provide our patients with running and gait analysis, manual therapy, and customized home exercise program. When scheduling an appointment, make sure to mention you are interested in a running and gait analysis program.
Author: Dr. John Putnam PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, Cert DN, Cert SMT, Dip. Osteopractic
Bartlett JL, Sumner B, Ellis SG, and Rodger K. (2014). Activity and Functions of the Human Gluteal Muscles in Walking, Running, Sprinting, and Climbing. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 2014;153:124-131.
Bandy WD and Irion JM. The Effect of Time on Static Stretch on the Flexibility of the Hamstring Muscles. Physical Therapy. 1994; 74(9):845–850. https://doi.org/10.1093/ptj/74.9.845
Butler, R. J., Davis, I. S., & Hamill, J. (2006). Interaction of Arch Type and Footwear on Running Mechanics. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(12), 1998–2005. https://doi.org/10.1177/0363546506290401
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Davis IS, Bowser BJ, Mullineaux DRGreater vertical impact loading in female runners with medically diagnosed injuries: a prospective investigationBritish Journal of Sports Medicine 2016;50:887-892.
Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Wille CM, Ryan MB. Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(2):296–302. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181ebedf4