Physical Therapists Using Clinical Analysis To Discuss The Art And Science Behind Running and The Stuff We Put On Our Feet

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DOR Podcast #83: How Running Shoes Affect Our Biomechanics (ft Geoff Burns) | Part 1

In the first of a two part podcast, Nate & Matt discuss shoe foams and biomechanics with physiologist and researcher Dr. Geoff Burns. In this first part, Geoff educates us about the effects of different shoe properties on our biomechanics. He also explains how biomechanics change while running at different paces.

Listen to This Week's Podcast Here!

Direct Links: Apple | Spotify | Anchor

About Geoff Burns

Dr. Geoff Burns is a physiologist and engineer with an expertise in running. He works for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee as a Sport Physiologist, and he conducts academic research with the University of Michigan. His work has focused on running biomechanics and performance. Geoff is a runner himself and competes internationally in ultramarathons. He was the 2016 USA national champion in the 100km and has finished 5th at the 100km World Championships, twice, in 2016 and 2018.

Check out Geoff's website: 
Geoff's Twitter

0:00 - Introduction 
1:42 - The Subjective: What's the hardest race you've ever run? 
20:00 - Geoff Burns's background and research 
32:36 - The effects of shoes on biomechanics 
43:43 - The effect of running speed on biomechanics and our experience of shoes 
50:56 - Wrap-up

Science Blog:

How Parts of the Body Must Work in Balance

By Chief Editor Matt Klein

The ride of the FuelCell RC Elite v2 is unique for several reasons. The softness, or durometer, is on a level I have not previously experienced. This is somewhat offset at the foot by the high sidewalls, wider last, the plate design and rocker profile in the forefoot. However, the softness of the sole still creates instability. Soft surfaces or soles require stability at the whole body, not just the foot. The knee, hip, pelvis and spine must find a balance of stability and mobility.

- The knee must stay mostly in the sagittal plane (forward/back), flexing and extending at the knee. Some rotation does occur, but excessive amounts, which may occur due to instability, is not the most stable.
- The hip performs several motions, including hip flexion and extension in the sagittal plane for forward motion. It also however controls rotational movement both at the hip and at the knee (the femur is a bone that is part of both the hip and knee joints). Additionally, the hip is home to many muscles including the gluteal muscles which control motion at the knee, hip and pelvis.
- The gluteus medius is important for stabilizing the pelvis and keeping it level in the frontal (side to side) plane. This is important to provide stability at the knee, spine and hip, as weakness of the gluteus medius can cause excessive frontal plane motion at the knee (adduction), hip/pelvis (pelvic drop), and spine (compensatory Tredelenburg gait, ie spinal side bend to the same side).
- The pelvis interacts with the hip as mentioned, but must also rotate in many planes of motion with the sacrum which is too extensive to describe for this post.
- The spine has an incredible potential for movement, which also must be balanced with stability. The most common description of spinal movements include flexion, extension, sideband and rotation. However, these movements combine in an incredible number of ways to create the amazing variety of spinal motion. The spine also has more joints than any part of the body, with approximately 24 separate vertebrae as an adult with about 4 joints per vertebrae. That leaves at least 96 joints (more or less depending on some anatomical variations) in the spine alone (not counting interactions with ribs at the thoracic spine, the head, scapulae or pelvis/sacrum. Although the sacrum is technically part of the spine...). Fortunately there are plenty of muscles at the spine to stabilize if the person knows how to use them.

Each person has different levels of control, stability and mobility at each one of the above joints. For those that have excessive motion with poor control, a softer surface creates more instability. For those with less motion, softer surfaces may provide more shock absorption. For those with more motion, stiffer shoes tend to create more stability and balanced platforms (depending on where the stiffness is) and those with less motion, stiffer shoes tend to be difficult due to limiting already limited motion. There are always exceptions to this given individual variations. If you have mechanics that may not match with a shoe you are interested in, you are going to have some additional work to do to run in that shoe. For those with more motion and less control, running in a softer shoe is going to require more strength and movement control work on the muscles that provide stability (glutes, hip rotator muscles and intrinsic foot muscles).

This can be as simple as a few well chosen exercises after runs. For those with less motion and more stiffness wanting to run in a stiffer shoe, some additional mobility work, particularly at the ankle and hip, is going to be required for adequate motion.  There is no one size fits all formula, so understanding your own mechanics, what works, what doesn't and what extra work might be required to keep yourself healthy is well worth researching.

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