Adventures In Biomechanics-Land

Since I’ve retired from BRC and am currently in limbo between jobs, I’ve had loads of time to do everything I’ve put off for ages (hence 2 blog posts in a week!). I could get used to this…but not gonna happen. But in the meantime I’ll just talk about myself.

Anyway, one project I’d been meaning to knock out for several weeks was getting to the bottom of a year-plus long plantar fascia injury, because I’d decided I had enough of treating symptoms. Seriously, with the chunks of change (I could’ve bought a house by now. Or not. But maybe at least a Vita-mix…) I’ve dropped on dry-needing, massage, Graston, ASTYM, shoe-changes, taping, insoles, and PRP shots (TWO of them now, and no insurance coverage on those bad boys, sucker.) and every other form of re-hab and pre-hab known to man, not to mention long stretches of time off altogether, with still only short-lived relief to show for it, especially when even the slightest increase in volume or intensity would send things right back to square one. I didn’t necessarily chalk up any treatment as a failure so much, but more like as a sign that there was something else going on.

I will interject that if nothing else, the last year has been the biggest lesson in patience and learning to have foresight that I’ve ever, ever, EVER experienced in running, and ultimately I think that’ll be beneficial. But right now to be quite frank, it’s a real blowfest. I just kinda wish it hadn’t taken this long or taken this situation to make that happen.

Anyway, Simon has listened to me lament for months now how I feel like when I run, I only use my right leg, which ironically is the injured side. And it seriously wasn’t my imagination, even though I’m not sure how that’s possible because you kind of have to use two legs to run. But nonetheless, I’d finish 45 minute easy runs and my right quads and calves felt like I’d run two hours, while my left side didn’t feel fatigued at all. And don’t even get me started on what it felt like doing all the vertical stuff last year, I just didn’t really think it was all that significant until I tried to come back from what’s going on now and haven’t been able to despite doing a million things INCLUDING having patience.

So a couple of weeks ago, up to Boulder I went. Boulder and I have a love-hate relationship. Like, I find something about it to be incredibly annoying, but it is really pretty and they do have hella good running resources because the town is basically run by runners, so that’s cool. One of said resources is the CU Sports Medicine and Performance Center, which is totally awesome and features a full-on biomechanics and physiology lab, among a lot of other things. That stuff can be hard to come by, but it seemed like a good place to start putting the puzzle pieces back together, and retrospectively I learned a lot and would totally recommend it to anyone who’s perpetually banged-up and limited in their training as a result. Not saying it’ll fix everything, and expect to leave with lots of work to do, but worth your time for sure.

CUSMP Lab

CUSMP Lab

So I met with one of their biomechanists/physical therapists, Tim, who’s actually a cyclist but works with tons of runners, and he took me through about two hours of gait analysis stuff. I should add that this isn’t shoe-store gait analysis, which now that I don’t work in one, I can say that I think that method has super limited validity owing to the fact that what goes on above the feet and ankles is just as much, if not way more, important than just what your foot looks like when you’re weight bearing. So to a certain extent it’s BS. But, it’s good enough for a large portion of people who come in so whatever. Also, I have no degree in biomechanics or kinesiology so take that opinion with a huge grain of salt.

Anyway, I was surprised to learn, after like two hours, that I’m “really mechanically sound and not structurally set up to fail”, which surprised me given my form’s not the most beautiful thing to behold, which was great but also sort of an anticlimactic assessment. But the one big thing was dude WTF is going on with your left hip?

One of the big things they do is measure the amount of contralateral hip-drop, which is how much your hips rock side to side, or ideally how level they stay, when you’re fully weight bearing in a single-legged stance. If there’s too much drop, it predisposes you to everything from IT Band issues to shin splints to sacroiliac joint problems to kneecap stuff, so it can really be the bane of any runner’s existence. It can happen for a lot of reasons, most often just weak abductors; super common in runners given the whole moving-in-a-forward-plane-of-motion-all-the-time thing. My right hip allowed the left side to drop around 3mm, totally acceptable range, while the left one didn’t do a whole lot and let the right side tip a stellar 11mm. However, oddly it was no stronger or weaker than the other side, just totally shut-down with no neuromuscular control, and since it wasn’t working right, everything below wasn’t either, hence the feeling of running with one leg. Here is a shining example of that in action:

mt wash

Hip-dropping like a champ, alllllll the way up the mountain.

Then there was the figuring out why that compensatory mechanism was at work. If there was no injury on the left side, then what is it trying to protect by allowing for so much excessive dropping in of the hip as though trying to reduce the amount of stress placed on…? So we put our heads together and drew the conclusion after throwing some ideas around that it likely had a lot to do with running on a meniscus tear on that side for about two years (don’t do that) a while back, then getting the surgery, not re-habbing (out of ignorance), and returning to training 4 weeks later (don’t do that either) because apparently I was hell-bent on getting a glorious 50th place at Clubs in Bend that year. Hooray.

So beyond just the lessons learned about how to function best mechanically, which I thought was super interesting and was like the most enjoyable 2 hour geek-out-fest I’ve had in ages, the other takeaway was, in a round-about way, patience. Patience in coming back from other injuries lest they snowball into a million other issues and rob you of a lot more than they would have otherwise. But, luckily all fixable things that will just take time and consistency, like anything in running.

That’s all I got for this fascinating post, next time if I’m feeling really into getting extra credit I’ll tack on some DIY hip-control exercises! I know you’ll all be on the edge of your seats waiting for that one.

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