Friday, 10 February 2012

Guest blog by Tony Gavin

Tony Gavin, centre
I came across Tony Gavin via Progait on the web.  In my book, you cannot underestimate how important things like a gait analysis are in terms of taking care of yourself and enjoying going for a run. After all, I came close to giving up running before I went into a proper running shop myself (see below for related links) which led me to admire people who understand the biomechanics of running.   Tony Gavin explains some of his own journey and shares an insight into his profession as a Podiatrist:

I was delighted when Doug asked me to write a guest blog, as a Sports Podiatrist I often contribute to publications about gait analysis, running biomechanics, barefoot running, foot injuries, so for I change I thought I would be indulgent and talk a little about my running journey so far.

Always I wanted to be a runner, I always envied runners, in the same way I envied people who rode motorbikes. I envied there ability to do what they wanted, their discipline, their control, and most of all I envied their happiness.

I flirted with running in my early 20's, had a stab at the Great North Run, got injured, gave up, and returned to the familiar pattern of work, couch, kebab. I have worked with runners, helping them on their journey, often when they are at their lowest, when they are injured.

Having a highly developed skill of convincing athletes of how to modify their training so that they can be the best they can while reducing the risk of injury, but I could never do the same thing for myself. I often thought that these 2 situations were polar opposite, and in some senses they were; slender fit disciplined elite athlete vs overweight unfit binging swivel chair jockey. However, our goals were fundamentally the same, to navigate a path of training without falling into injury. The same approach is appropriate for both, maximum training stimulus with minimum excessive forces on areas at risk of injury. For an athlete this may have meant dropping a quality session each week, for me it meant jogging at a pace that walkers could overtake me for 2 months. I walked this path, which in honesty was dull, as I'm sure it is dull for the injured athlete to drop their intervals, but having one eye on the bigger picture was what I needed. 

In the past I often focused on my own injuries without looking at the bigger picture of where I wanted to go, even though I do it on a daily basis with my patients. The results have been great, 12 months running injury free, 1 Marathon and 3 Halfs completed, and tumbling PB's, I suspect now is when things are going to get tough.

The long term plan will last another 4 years, and I want to be all that I can as a runner, perhaps that will be a 1hr 20 half marathon, who knows?

As a podiatrist, we are specialists of the feet, and as most sports people use their feet for their performance we tend to see many injuries caused by activities. In my Practice I see a large number of runners, you may ask if this is because running is bad for you, or causes injuries, or is it because running is having another surge in popularity? Well, for an injury to occur, you have to place a stress on a tissue which is greater than its ability to withstand, and the easiest way to do this is to run too far, too fast, or too often. It is easy to see how this applies to a relative newcomer to the sport, where 5 runs a week may be too often, or 4 miles is too  far, so all of the variables (distance, speed and frequency) have to be specific for that athlete. Seasoned athletes know what their body can take, they know the weekly mileage they can sustain, they also know how many interval sessions they can do and how much recovery they need. Often this knowledge comes from periods of injury and learning.

Hopefully a podiatrist can assist with this period of learning, manage painful conditions, and reduce future risks of injury. This can take many forms, from exercise prescription, advice, footwear advice, orthotics, referrals for physical therapy, referrals for surgery, and many other options. Before a podiatrist can help in this way they may want to analyse your gait.

Gait analysis is studying the way that someone walks or runs, and can be done visually, with high speed cameras, on treadmills, and measurements taken over pressure plates. This allows both the podiatrist and the athlete to objectively see what is happening mechanically during the gait cycle. Excessive forces, and abnormal movements can then be seen, and it can be considered if they are leading to a current injury. From this information the treatment plan can be formed, which will be specific to your running gait.

So, should we all have our running gait assessed? It really does depend, and it depends on what are the risks of injury. For a new runner these risk of overloading tissues is high, so a trip to a running shop for analysis for appropriate trainers is the minimum I would recommend. The value of this is only ever known by those who start running in unsuitable footwear for them unfortunately. For conditions which are persistent, or before embarking upon a lengthy training programme with a specific focus, a trip to a podiatrist may be well placed. 


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