13 Mar The Biology of Running Injuries
Most runners are recreational runners who rarely exceed speeds of 16kmph (10mph) and mainly run for fun and to improve their health and fitness. The average age of the recreational runner is over 40 years old and due to the sedentary, seated lifestyles of modern society tends to be overweight* and have poor running posture which, when combined with compromised foot function from wearing poorly designed footwear creates the perfect recipe for jogging related injuries (fig 1).
*This article will concentrate on the ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ problems of the modern runner as ‘energy’ problems associated with age and weight are more holistic in nature and involve dietary, sleeping and training behaviours
Fig 1. The Biology of Running Injuries
‘Barefoot’ Running: A Beautiful Hypothesis
Since 2009 and the ‘barefoot running revolution’ many injured runners have abandoned their quest for the ‘magic shoe’ or ‘enchanted orthotic’ and have embarked on a different journey in search of ‘the lost art of natural running’. Inspired by stories of ‘ the injury-free, human persistence-hunter’ and the’ healing effects of running barefoot with mother nature,’ runners have signed up in droves for ‘barefoot running technique’ workshops to hear the following message:
‘Humans are by nature ‘born to run’ and runners that grow up in natural environments do not experience the same chronic running injuries as modern runners because they run on their forefoot and wear minimal, unstructured footwear which build strong feet’. A beautiful hypothesis; clear, elegantly simple but tragically wrong for 80% of the running population
A Tale of Two Runners
Runner 1 resembles most modern, relatively sedentary humans. She has poor posture, poor running technique and chronic knee pain but unlike most modern humans she possesses a fine pair of foot-shaped feet, that still function as feet. Runner 1 attends a ‘natural running workshop’ where she experiences a ‘eureka’ moment whilst running barefoot with an upright posture, a high cadence and forefoot running style. One month later, her knee pain has disappeared, she has thrown away her cushioned running shoes, invested in a pair of ‘barefoot’ running shoes and started to blog about her ‘barefoot adventures’. Unfortunately, Runner 1 and her experience with barefoot/forefoot running represents less than 20% of the running population.
Runner 2 resembles most modern, relatively sedentary humans. She has poor posture, poor running technique, chronic knee pain AND feet that have adapted to modern footwear design to become shoe-shaped. Shoe-shaped feet no longer function like feet. They become unstable, rigid, and weak. Runner 2 attends a ‘natural running workshop’ where she experiences a ‘eureka’ moment whilst running barefoot with an upright posture, a high cadence and forefoot running style. One month later, her knee pain has disappeared, she has thrown away her cushioned running shoes, invested in a pair of ‘barefoot’ running shoes’ and begun to develop persistent calf-achilles pain that is much more debilitating than her original knee pain. After reducing her mileage by over 50% and still experiencing pain she schedules a visit with her GP who advises her to give up running and take up cycling. Unfortunately, Runner 2 and her experience with barefoot/forefoot running represents more than 80% of the running population.
Foot Form is Foot Function
The principles of biological design can be summarised by the phrase ‘form is function’ ie that the structure of something determines how it functions. The human foot is a prime example of how disrupting biological structure, disrupts biological function. If your foot is no longer foot-shaped (widest across the toes) it’s ability to provide stability, shock absorption and propulsion will be compromised.
Assessing Foot Form and Function
The beNimble app has been designed around a simple series of tests of foot function and as an introduction to the world of ‘functional footwear’.
It can be downloaded for free here:
Lee Saxby has designed the Functional Foot Map System for therapists, trainers and coaches who understand the importance of the foot in human movement and require an efficient, repeatable and reliable method to assess foot function. The Functional Foot Map is a practical footprint analysis system that can be easily integrated into both clinical and gym environments.