The Mystery of Running Injuries

Summer is almost here and people have already resumed running as their regular workout. It is not uncommon for people to end up injuring themselves from running. This is especially true for those new to the activity.

Running is a high-impact, repetitive activity. The stress to the joints is great because the entire body's weight plus momentum from running is on one single leg at a time. It is more than double that of walking. It is like walking, however, in that the repetitive nature places stress on the same joints again and again over time.

When a machine is oiled and the gears are in place, it can run for a long time before a repair is needed. The joints of our body are just the same. If our joints and muscles are in good alignment, they function with minimal friction. We say they are at optimal biomechanical position. However, if the alignment is off, like a machine out of gear, more stress is on the joints and the muscles need to work extra harde to do the job. Picture a person standing with both knees bent, like a half-squatting posture. It will not take long before the thigh muscles get so tired the person needs to stand up. Forcing a mal-aligned body to work (such as through running) will likely lead to tendonitis and early degeneration of joints.

However, most of the time, the mal-alignment is not that obvious to be picked up and requires a trained eye. This is especially true when it comes to the lower extremity movement which requires rotation in multiple joints. Below are some clues to help you to perform a crude assessment on your static and dynamic posture.

Static Posture
Stand and face a mirror with arms hanging by your side. Check for the following structure to determine if they are at the same vertical positioning.

  • Ear lobe
  • Top of the shoulders
  • Top of the hip bone (waist)
  • Top of the knee cap

Then, turn to your side and check your profile. The following structures should line up in a good posture.

  • Ear lobe
  • Center of the shoulder
  • Center of the hip
  • Center of the knee
  • Center of the ankle

Dynamic Posture
Walk normally down a straight path and check for following things:

  • Equal stride length
  • Equal stance phase (i.e. the time standing on one leg alone)
  • Equal arm swinging and trunk movement to either side

If the results of the above assessment are negative, there is likely an alignment issue. This could be due to stiff joints or weak or tight muscles. In that case, I would suggest using less impact form of exercise, such as walking, until a better alignment is restored. At the same time, you should work on stretching or strengthening those muscles affecting the alignment. If you are unsure whether you can spot a misalignment or are uncertain of what exercises to do, seek a professional for some advice.

Peggy Hau, PT, MscPT is a licensed physical therapist at Mettler Center. Do you have questions regarding biomechanics or a running injury? Ask an Expert. Your injury can be evaluated by a physical therapist who can detect functional problems and make the best possible recommendation for treatment. Call 217-398-9800 to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with a physical therapist or request an appointment online.