Build from the ground up

Poor biomechanics could be keeping you from training to your potential. But the solution can often lie with a bit of sole searching, explains Mark Saunders, Director at Physio4Life in Putney

Biomechanics . . . The term sounds like the kind of technology you’d be likely to find in one of the Terminator films; but in actual fact this area of sports science deals with the structure and function of the human body during exercise. For professional sportsmen and women biomechanics has become an essential part of everyday life, in a line of work where every chink in an athlete’s armour could account for time lost on a mountain ascent during Le Tour, or even leave them susceptible to injury through repetitive strain.

Athletes simply can’t afford to have their body letting them down when things get tough. But they aren’t the only ones who should be taking a closer look at their biomechanics: for even the most casual runner or cyclist, the enjoyment of sport comes as much from being able to get out there and put yourself through those paces; not sitting at home nursing a tight quad or fighting through the pain of a dodgy knee with every stride – it’s just not as fun.

If you’re a keen sportsperson or like to keep fit, a huge portion of your medical history can be accounted for by the way pressure is exerted through your body during exercise – All those niggles and strains, tears, weak spots and twinges. And the more active you become, the more those imbalances or abnormalities can lead to injury. Think, for example, about the preparation that goes into a marathon distance: hundreds of thousands of paces in training and up to 40,000 steps during race day. Or if you’re a keen cyclist you only need to look more closely at your average cadence to see how you are placing strain on your body with every turn of the pedals.

Here’s a list of the top injuries sustained by runners and cyclists every year:

  • Plantar Fasciitis (inflammation of the tendons in the foot)
  • Arch Pain
  • Achilles Tendinitis
  • Runner’s Knee (known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, and just as common in cyclists)
  • Iliotibial Band Syndrome (an irritation of the upper leg)
  • Persistent Muscle Cramps
  • Shin Splints
  • Stress Fractures

Look familiar?

It should be no surprise to hear that every one of them can be brought on or worsened by exercising with poor form.

So how do you stop these injuries from occurring?

Biomechanics is a complex issue and can involve a number of different movements taking place up and down the body in relation to alignment and balance, but at Physio4Life we work from the ground up – starting with your feet. Taking into account foot posture, arch height and particularly the pronation of the foot (the rotation that takes place from your outstep to your instep when pressure is exerted) can be key to solving any abnormalities in an athlete’s biomechanics. And the good news is that many of these problems can be rectified through the correct footwear.

Why does footwear matter?

Biomechanics foot assessmentBecause your feet act as the first point of contact with the ground or pedal, its role is that of a shock absorber, distributing energy throughout the rest of the body again and again. If the shock doesn’t dissipate in the right way, or causes the body to move in an abnormal direction, this can result in injuries as far up the body as the pelvis, back or even the neck. When we carry out biomechanical analysis on a client at Physio4Life, checking pronation is critical to a correct diagnosis. Some people tend to run on the outside of their feet (underpronator or supinator) placing too much stress on this section of the foot, while others who can be described as being flat-footed (overpronators) tend to spread too much of the weight onto the instep sending shockwaves up through the rest of the body in ways it shouldn’t.

There are, of course, a number of other factors at play, which is why we carry out extensive assessments and gait analysis when clients come to us. But the key thing to remember is that every foot is different in shape – even the contours of your left and right feet won’t be mirror images of each other – and so care should be taken when choosing footwear.

What are the benefits of getting the right fit?

Achieving better alignment and a more forgiving distribution of energy through impact can lead to several benefits:

  • Less susceptible to injury – Strain on joints, ligaments, bones and muscles is reduced
  • Able to run pain-free – There’s no point taking part in sport if you don’t enjoy it, and carrying troubling injuries around is often a fast-track to giving up on a training programme
  • Improved training capacity – Less pain and fewer injuries means you can avoid the niggles that bring about a dip in form. Being able to train hard and remain confident in your body’s ability to hold up can be crucial if you want to see results.Improved performance – There are clear benefits to being able to utilise your muscular weaponry in the way nature intended. Correcting alignment issues can reduce muscle fatigue, which means shorter rest periods between sessions and a greater efficiency of movement as you exercise. You never know, getting your biomechanics right could hold the key to having that extra 1% left in the tank when it really matters.

At Physio4Life we use prescription orthotics – custom-made insoles – to give clients the perfect fit and absolute comfort when they exercise. If you’d like to find out more about biomechanical assessment and the benefits of orthotics, contact Physio4Life