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As a 41-year-old who started running at age 13, I can honestly say being a runner is not only a major part of my life but also my identity. During the winter, I feel miserable because it’s too cold and dark out to run as much as I’d like to. When spring approaches, I get excited just thinking about how the longer days and warmer temperatures will help me get into better running shape. While other people might judge their fitness based on exercise classes or weight-lifting, my main barometer is how fast I can run a 5K race.

Trace 3D Motion Analysis running form virtual camera run IASTM HawkGrips

Trace 3D Motion Analysis provides voluminous information related to running form, including virtual and traditional camera views alongside intricate measurement figures.

So when I’m dealing with a running injury, it’s annoying to say the least and can be downright exasperating. Unfortunately like many runners, I’m all-too-familiar with the various injuries inherent to my chosen sport. From heel pain to hamstring strain, and back stiffness to iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, my injuries over the years have run the gamut, so to speak.

As a result, when the latest injury surfaced a couple months ago, I was certainly frustrated but not particularly surprised. It was mid-June and my season had started very well, with personal records in a few local races. Setting my sights on the Revolutionary Run 10K race that would be held the 4th of July, I pushed hard during a 6.5-mile training run with the Conshohocken Running Club, trying to finish the out-and-back stretch in my fastest time of the year.

Injury Strikes

Everything was going great for a couple miles. But then I felt the bottom of my right foot start to cramp up. This sensation wasn’t totally foreign to me, since I had taken a month off from running a couple years before due to a similar ailment. But this time I tried to push through, hoping it would go away if I softened my impact and made a conscious effort to keep the foot from clenching.

Instead of the sensation alleviating though, it spread to my right calf. This really concerned me because a right-calf strain had derailed my entire running season a few summers ago. But still I tried to keep going. Whether stubborn or stupid, I was determined to complete the route without walking, although anxiety about causing a significant injury did make me run it slower than I wanted to.

I finished that run frustrated, with both my foot and calf still noticeably bothering me. So I let common sense prevail and decided to take a couple weeks off from running. Instead, on a daily basis I rode the exercise bike and made sure to stretch thoroughly. But when I resumed running about a week before the 10K race, I was disappointed to discover the foot/calf cramping returned only about a mile or two into my workout.

So I shut down my running routine again, focusing only on the exercise bike and stretching in the week leading up to the race. But when race day came, the discouraging pattern repeated itself. I felt good for the first mile or two, before the cramping sensation returned first to my foot and then my calf. More than once, I almost stopped to walk but in the end I ran the whole race and even finished with a decent time.

Motion Analysis

Afterward, I took another couple weeks off before gingerly returning to running. My pace was slow and the mileage low, but I was trying very hard not to make my condition any worse. Then in early August, I visited Dr. Doug Adams, PT, DPT, SCS, OCS, CSCS, at ATI Physical Therapy in Wilmington, DE. A physical therapist, HawkGrips practitioner and avid runner himself, Doug had offered to conduct Trace 3D Motion Analysis on me. At the least, it could provide some insight into how to make my running form more efficient. At most, the analysis might even point out why right foot/calf cramping had become such a problem for me.

motion analysis Trace 3D running form physical therapy ATI therapist Wilmington IASTM HawkGrips

Author Brian Ferrie (left) and Physical Therapist Dr. Doug Adams stand in front of the Trace 3D Motion Analysis system at ATI Physical Therapy in Wilmington, DE.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I eagerly looked forward to this appointment, where Doug attached various sensors to my hips, thighs, calves, and sneakers. I then ran on the treadmill for a few minutes, while a sophisticated array of cameras and measuring devices recorded my every move. Doug showed me the fascinating results on his laptop screen, which included a 3D depiction of my skeletal lower-body in motion, alongside a traditional video of my legs running on the treadmill. Next to this, a collection of blue and red numbers reflected various angles and measurements for my initial foot contact, mid-stance, terminal stance, and swing phase.

The diagnosis? I’m an over-strider. In a nutshell, my stride is longer than it should be, which means my torso isn’t properly positioned over my center of balance and I have a tendency to heel-strike. Furthermore, my forward torso lean was just 8 degrees and Doug suggested that increasing it to 10-15 degrees would help improve my efficiency.

I found all this information very intriguing, but also wanted to know how it impacted my injury issues. Doug said the analysis demonstrated I had a tendency to “lift” my right foot off the ground when running rather than letting the foot propel itself. However, he noted this was more likely the result of my injury than the cause of it, which sounded accurate to me. I actually sensed I had been favoring my leg since returning to running, because flexing the foot/calf in a normal way felt like it might aggravate the condition. So it was interesting to learn that the 3D analysis corroborated something I had suspected, but couldn’t be sure about on my own.

HawkGrips Therapy

Afterward, Doug treated my troublesome foot and calf with both manual therapy and HawkGrips. Although I had experienced instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) with HawkGrips before, this was the first time I received manual therapy in conjunction, and I thought the combination proved very effective. Both the IASTM and manual therapy involved a little discomfort, but in a way I’d compare to massage or for that matter, the act of distance running itself, because it was a “hurts-so-good” kind of sensation that innately felt beneficial.

The next day, Doug emailed me a spectacularly detailed 18-page assessment of my running form, along with a comprehensive packet of targeted stretching and strengthening exercises for my foot and calf. As a fellow runner, he also offered some tips on how I could try to implement a shorter stride and more pronounced torso lean when I run.

All in all, I’d highly recommend 3D motion analysis to any running enthusiast. There’s just something cool about watching yourself run on camera and learning how biomechanically efficient (or inefficient) your form is. I’m also a big fan of HawkGrips treatment and feel it has made a major difference with my injuries. Thankfully I’m back to running regularly now, with a new focus on training for the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll 10K in mid-September.

My mindset toward injuries has evolved as well. They still annoy and frustrate me but I’ve come to recognize that if you push your body to be fit, sometimes injuries will probably happen. None of us is a machine and I understand that more than ever now that I’ve entered my 40’s. But I also believe that adapting my training to injuries, and doing what it takes to overcome them, is all part of being committed to health and fitness.

Brian W. Ferrie is the editorial & multimedia director for HawkGrips and can be reached at bferrie@hawkgrips.com.

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