Understanding the running gait

The running motion

The running gait is the cycle between when your foot first hits the ground through to the next time the same foot hits the ground again and is different for each and every runner. However, a runner's gait can lead to some common problems so it's important to know how this might affect you.

This running gait cycle is split into five stages:

  • Stance: When your foot first strikes the running surface.
  • Loading: When your heel touches the running surface to the time your forefoot touches the running surface.
  • Mid-stance: Your heel starts to lift, and the forefoot flexes.
  • Toe off: Your foot leaves the running surface.
  • Swing: When your foot leaves the ground and touches again.

Each individual’s running gait can be likened to a fingerprint and runners can infact carry out a wet footprint test to ascertain their gait cycle and therefore the type of running shoe they require. Everything from how your foot strikes, whether it's forefoot or heel first, whether your foot rolls in or out, all depends depends entirely on your running style.

Although running gaits are unique, runners can all suffer from common problems as a result. Your foot will have its own natural outwards or inwards rolling movement throughout the gait cycle. When these rolling movements become exaggerated, two particular problems can occur for the runner.

  • Overpronation is when the foot rolls too far inwards, causing the foot arch to flatten and stretches the muscles and tendons in the foot.
  • Conversely, supination refers to the outward roll, placing large strains on the muscles and tendons that stabilize the ankle.

Both supination and pronation of the foot are perfectly normal actions whilst running. Some runners may be  'neutral runners' in that their feet pronate and supernate in the right areas and in the right amounts.

Likely issues caused by running gait problems

Excessive pronation and supination can cause a number of ailments which can affect not only the foot and ankle, but also the hip and back.

Some of the most common symptoms of running gait cycle problems are:

  • Arch and heel pain
  • Flat feet
  • Ankle pain
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Knee pain
  • Hip and back pain 

Dealing with running gait problems

Hopefully if you have been fitted out with the correct shoes, you can avoid some of these problems, but where the shoe is not enough on its own, then it's possible that the gait issue can be addressed by use of orthic inserts. These need to be prescribed by a qualified podiatrist after a gait and foot strike analysis.

A test to get some insight on your gait cycle can be carried out by simply looking at a pair of your well-worn running shoes. The inward or outward tilt of the wearing may indicate if you are an overpronator or supinator.

However, the wearing signs may be hard to read, so it is best to seek an expert's help to recognize them. Therefore, the best way to understand your running gait is to be thoroughly evaluated and analysed, first at a specialized sports store, and if necessary, by a podiatrist if your problem persists despite having what could be considered the 'correct' shoes for your running gait.

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