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By Malc Kent
In conventional gait analysis, a person will run on a treadmill at a given speed while a clinician makes subjective observations or collects additional evidence, typically slow motion video. Analysis performed at an indoor, static location certainly has its place and can be appropriate when control over conditions is required. But for any runner, real performance most likely occurs outside the confines of a clinic, lab, or store—on the tracks, roads, or trails where they run their regular workouts.
Today, when I perform a full gait and biomechanical analysis at my clinic, I always include a portion of the analysis in an indoor controlled environment and also an outdoor assessment. The indoor section allows me to collect high frame-rate video of the sagittal and frontal planes with the runner in situ and also conduct multi-pace testing with the ease of a treadmill’s speed adjustment.
But the real “acid test” for me is sending the runner outside to run a predetermined course with the same wearable sensors that they wore on the treadmill. In this part of the analysis, I can see how their running gait responds in a real environment where their feet stay stationary during the contact phase, and the terrain includes uphills, downhills, and potentially even technical underfoot conditions.
The Evolution of Wearables
The workflow that I use today is the result of seven years of continuous iteration and refinement focused on what really adds value to the assessment interpretation and ultimately to the runner’s future direction. During this same period, the development and application of wearable technology in this niche have multiplied with more and more products entering the market, and more acceptance of the value of wearables among gait analysts.
When I began helping Garmin (the arm formerly known as Dynastream Innovations) in 2012, Garmin’s footpod measured high-level metrics such as pace and cadence. When I worked as a consultant in gait analysis for dorsaVi in 2016 and 2017, we were refining the application of vertical ground reaction force numbers. And today, wearable solutions can now measure a multitude of direct and derived parameters indoors and outdoors, including:
- underfoot pressure
- pronation excursion
- pronation velocity
From a clinical standpoint, one of the biggest values in gait analysis comes from recording bilateral data, where we can then compute percentage asymmetry values between the left and right sides. When comprehensive bilateral data collection is combined with a wearable solution that measures accurately and reliably in any environment, the scope of what’s possible significantly expands. In this realm, RunScribe is a technology that’s always stood out for me.
As a gait analyst who’s performed more than 2,600 assessments using wearable technology, I need a wearable gait analysis solution to tick certain boxes. It needs to be light and small, quick and easy to attach and detach, and—most importantly—be completely unnoticeable by the runner. In addition to having a long battery life, I also need the sensor to be:
- able to start and stop recording autonomously
- easy to charge
- fast and reliable at offloading data
- inexpensive enough that if I lose a unit or two, I’m not dropping to the floor with chest pains
RunScribe has continually delivered on all of these fronts and is my go-to solution when I’m monitoring runners in the field away from treadmills and electricity. So much so that, for a recent trip to Kenya to work with the top running training group there, I packed only RunScribe sensors. The pods worked perfectly every day—even as the relentless red dust built up, I was able to perform some really insightful outdoor analysis.
“As a physiotherapist and athlete, I love biomechanics,” NN Running Team physiotherapist Marc Roig Tio said, reflecting on this process. “I always try to understand it better, both for helping my athletes and to try to run faster myself. Until now, biomechanical analysis was only done in the lab, with lots of limitations to understand what happens in outdoor running. With RunScribe, I can record the data of a full marathon, a speed work session, and many more without disturbing the athlete, just putting the sensors on the laces. And I get valuable info, especially on symmetry and running efficiency.”
Remote Gait Analysis with RunScribe
Working closely with Tim Clark, RunScribe’s founder and CEO, during the past 14 months, it became clear that, while outdoor analysis was a great application in itself, there was another step forward that made total sense for using RunScribe. This next logical evolution was remote monitoring and analysis, where the runner can collect their own gait data anywhere in the world and have it analyzed remotely by a highly experienced assessor.A runner can collect their gait data anywhere in the world and have it analyzed remotely by a highly experienced assessor, says @malckentrun. Click To Tweet
In effect, I’d been trying out this case since 2016. I was sending RunScribe footpods out to runners across North America; they would collect their data and then send the pods back to me for interpretation. Formalizing this into a dedicated RunScribe feature was a logical progression.
Why Do Runners Use Runfisx?
In March 2019, my company Runfisx partnered with RunScribe to offer remote gait analysis to runners around the globe. Runners anywhere in the world who have RunScribe footpods (or who can purchase or borrow a set) can allow Runfisx to connect to their online account to enable the interpretation. The process requires:
- A minimum of eight workout datasets collected with RunScribe pods
- Treadmill video including side and rear views
- Connecting the data to Malc at Runfisx
Runfisx then issues a report including the data analysis and interpretation.
Performing remote gait assessments with RunScribe, I’ve seen certain trends in what runners are seeking from the service. Most of the runners I’ve helped have a history of running injuries—either a recurring issue or a variety of potentially related issues. They have invested in a set of RunScribe pods to try and understand why they are getting injured. In some cases where gait is a key factor, the analysis can stand alone as a way to understand the issues. In other cases, the analysis can form a complementary interpretation that integrates with the work of the runner’s local clinician.
We’ve also provided analysis and feedback to runners who respect the importance of “prehab.” In these cases, they often have a target race looming in the future and are keen to ensure that they stay injury free all the way to the starting line.
Another topic that we’ve been dealing with for both rehab and prehab cases relates to shoe comparison. Often, when we’re assessing the data collected by the runner in their own time, they will have worn different shoes during the workouts. Naturally, part of the analysis includes a comparison of the runner’s gait metrics in each pair of shoes. For some runners, this will vary little from one shoe model to another while for other runners, the change in gait metrics in different shoes can be very pronounced.
For one of our runners based in Hawaii, Todd Corliss, this was a key part of his assessment. Todd had been recording data in a variety of different Altra running shoes. There was a significant difference between his gait metrics in two of the three shoes, a variance which held true in controlled conditions during treadmill workouts. He was able to use this insight to gain real value in understanding which model of shoes worked better for him.
Tim Clark and I have seen that, while more and more advanced running metrics would appear to be a good thing, in reality, many runners struggle with knowing how to interpret the data and get meaning and value from it. The same question kept arising, which is also the question associated with a lot of advanced wearable tech: Now that I know that my number is this or that, what does it mean? Is this good or bad? What do I need to change?
By taking the lessons learned through developing several running wearable tech products and integrating them with the knowledge gained from thousands of wearable gait analyses, our objective is to provide actionable meaning to runners around the world who are committed to using wearable technology to understand better how to stay injury free and perform their best. For us, every time we can help one more runner understand their gait and go on to reduce their chance of injury, it’s a win!