Running biomechanics and the “preferred path” theory

For years, biomechanics experts have been grappling with a challenging question: What is the ideal pattern of gait for runners?

The “ideal” pattern of gait would be a path of motion through the foot and ankle that allows for maximum running efficiency and minimal risk of overuse injury.

If you could define an optimal path, you could analyze how each individual’s running pattern varied from the ideal.  Then you could design the perfect shoe or orthotic insert to help compensate for individual deviation from the ideal.

Runners would run more efficiently and have lower risk of injury.  Running shoes could be designed (and recommended to each runner) on a scientific basis.

Unfortunately, coming to a consensus about this ideal path has been elusive.  That’s because the optimal path seems to vary a lot from one runner to the next.

Now new research (March 8, 2017 Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise) points to another way to address the challenges of runners.

The scientists had runners run with three differently designed shoes.  Surprisingly, the various shoes made little difference to the biomechanical path each runner used.  It seemed that each runner had a preferred pathway along which their foot and ankle moved, and shifting from one shoe or another made little difference.  Their motion was more dependent on their pre-existing “preferred path” than on the characteristics of the shoes they were wearing.

What does this mean for you?

I’m not trying to put my friends at the neighborhood running store out of business, but it may not be worth trying to find the perfect running shoe for your specific foot or gait type. If you’re trying to improve your running times and stay away from injury, you might see more benefit from working on yourself, not your shoes: core support, stretching, strengthening your calves, etc.

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About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods. His website, askdrlavine.com, provides more information about his approach. Please contact him at drlavine@yourbodyofknowledge.com or at 212-400-9663.
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