Changing The Way You Run: A Cautionary Tale

By Dr. Kimberly Davis at RunLab – July 31, 2018

In an attempt to improve your run, you probably have been told a myriad of conflicting information: stretch more, stretch less, stop landing on your heel, start “firing” your glutes, increase your cadence, lean forward, land on your forefoot, land on your midfoot, your stride is too long, too short, too narrow, too wide. It’s your shoes. The list goes on.


It’s enough to drive any runner crazy, because we really just want three basic things: 

  1. To keep running
  2. To stay injury free…or at least to know whether our little aches and pains are things we should run through
  3. To get faster…or more importantly, to not get slower


Many of us, in an attempt to help either ourselves or our kids solve running-related issues, try to change the way we run in order to fix issues we’ve heard are “bad,” only to end up with new injuries.

A young XC runner came into our clinic with chronic heel pain just before his junior year of high school. He had tried orthotics, a variety of different running shoes, several kinds of therapy, and rest. Understandably, he was frustrated by the lack of progress. Digging into his history, we were able to get to the root of his issue by discovering one very important thing: he had been told by his running buddy that he looked “weird” when he was ran, and that he needed to point his feet straight. He changed his form for a year and developed tendinopathy in several of the tendons around his foot and ankle, which led to the heel pain. Why? Because his lower leg needed to point slightly out. That position was HIS body’s neutral, and he had been forcing it straight for a year, all because someone told him his running looked different. After a slight correction to his mechanics that worked with his structural design instead of against it, he was back to running pain-free in four weeks. 



So what does this mean?

  1. Don’t change the way you naturally run unless you know why you are changing it. If you think it needs changing, get help from a professional so you don’t trade one problem for another.
  2. It’s not always about the shoes. People with great mechanics can run in just about anything. Shoes should be a catalyst, not a determinant for good mechanics.
  3. Most importantly: structure dictates function. Not everyone is built the same way, so not everyone should run, squat, or even walk the same way, despite what you might read on the Internet or in running magazines. Learn as much as you can about your unique structure, range-of-motion, and movement patterns before trying to change it. 


I like to tell my patients that running isn’t bad for you, bad running is bad for you. Bad running means something different for everybody. Once you understand your own body, you can prevent almost any running-related injury.  



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