Best Foot Forward

Running is one of the easiest and most popular ways to keep fit. It's also one of the easiest ways to develop a repetitive strain injury. Many injuries could be avoided, however, if we all knew a little bit more about our feet and how we run.

During running, the impact force placed on the body is typically three to four times our own body weight with every stride. This multiplied across a marathon places the body under a great deal of repetitive stress and is the most common cause of running injuries.

The best way to avoid running injuries is to prevent them, and the easiest and most effective way of doing this is to wear the correct footwear offering stability and shock absorption for your running gait.

From the bottom up

Due to the forces placed on the body and the repetitive nature of running, understanding your unique running gait can identify common problems and allow running footwear to be recommended with the correct level of stability and shock absorption. The body works on a closed chain system when running - when the foot is in contact with the ground, the forces and mechanics are transmitted along the leg to the spine. This is repeated with every step and means if anything along this chain is out of line then potential injuries can arise. Your 'running gait' simply identifies the cycle between when your foot first hits the ground through to the next time the same foot hits the ground again, and this running motion will be different for each individual runner.

Your foot will have its own natural inwards (pronation) and outwards (supination) rolling movement throughout the running gait. These rolling movements are necessary for the foot to function properly whilst in motion. However, it's when these rolling movements become exaggerated, two particular problems can occur:

  • Overpronation is the term used to describe when the foot rolls too far inwards, causing the foot arch to flatten and stretches the muscles and tendons in the foot.
  • Supination refers to the outward roll, placing large strains on the muscles and tendons that stabilise the ankle.

Some degree of supination and pronation of the foot whilst running are perfectly normal actions. The term 'neutral runner' is used to describe someone whose foot pronates and supinates in the right areas and in the right amounts. It is when these rolling movements become exaggerated that problems can occur. These runners are referred to as 'over pronators' or 'under pronators'.

Excessive pronation and supination can cause a number of injuries that not only affect the foot and ankle, but hip and back problems can also be attributed to the exaggerated roll of the foot.

The key to finding the correct running shoe isn’t researching every shoe available, it’s understanding your running gait and selecting a running shoe that offers the correct stability and shock absorption for your body’s specific needs. Running specialist retailers are able to assess your running gait and match the correct types of running shoes. Taking along a pair of your old running shoes to your running specialist retailer will enable them to assess wear patterns as well as assessing your running gait in store.

Men and women are different

Generally women are lighter, shorter, have a lower percentage of muscle mass and an increased body fat percentage to the average male. Female bone weight is also lighter, with the joints and surrounding ligaments being softer and more flexible. These anatomical differences change the stress on the female body compared to the male body during running.

The size and shape of the running shoe is a crucial factor for it to effectively stabilise the foot and ankle. Naturally the female foot is shorter, but it is also generally narrower through the heel due to a smaller Achilles. The Achilles is also often tighter, due to short calf muscles caused by wearing shoes with high heels. All these things mean that running shoes must be designed specifically and built around a female specific 'last' (a form that reflects the shape of the human foot) to address the stress placed on the female body.

One of the main areas of injury concern for women is around the knee joint due to an increased quadriceps angle. The quadriceps angle is the alignment between the pelvis and the leg and is determined by hip width and pelvic alignment. With women the hip is more internally rotated, increasing the force on the knee cap towards the midline of the body. This can also lead to a greater external rotation at heel strike. Therefore female specific running shoes have a different heel contact design than men’s shoes. This is designed to improve the stability and cushioning of the shoe on initial contact.