Part 2: Orthotics! Can They Improve Your Running Performance?
So how important is it to correct biomechanics at the feet? And once corrected, how can this affect power output or, at the very least, decrease the risk of injury? To answer these questions, I put myself in the patient’s shoes and under the microscope.
The BioMotion Lab at Visy Park in Carlton is used by a number of elite athletes and sports teams, most notably the Carlton Football Club in the Australian Football League, and is surrounded by expert analysts and health professionals. It detects ranges in joint mnotion, forces in those joints, sequencing of force production, asymmetries and power output – all in 3D and without putting a single marker on the body.
“If we know we can change these performance measures simply by adding the correct orthotic, imagine the possibilities for not only improving running times in an athletic population, but also decreasing injury by placing the body in a position of balance”.
In short, the results were incredible. The detailed report below demonstrates just how well modern-day technology is able to measure the ability of orthotics to create a change in performance and improve efficiency of movement.
For example, without orthotics I generated a 50cm vertical jump, with hip and knee joint torques on take-off exceeding 45 per cent higher than the normal expected value in newtons. The ground reaction forces (GRF) were asymmetrical, with my peak GRF being 912.80 newtons (N – unit of force) versus 1614.44 N from left to right. With a custom-fitted pair of orthotics slipped into the shoe, the results were nothing short of remarkable, and the change was far more dramatic than I had expected. My vertical jump increased by 5cm, with the GRF equalising to 1062.15N versus 1028.49N left to right, creating a balanced power distribution and force generation. Furthermore, the torques at the hip joint dropped by more than half on the left side and almost half on the right, with the left knee joint also showing a 35 per cent decrease in torque – a big deal considering excessive torque at the joint is a major cause of overuse injuries and increased degenerative changes of the joint, which can potentially lead to conditions such as arthritis.
Many other positive results were found in a variety of movements tested. If we know we can change these performance measures simply by adding the correct orthotic, imagine the possibilities for not only improving running times in an athletic population, but also decreasing injury by placing the body in a position of balance. The final critique for the pros and cons of orthotics is how they relate to footwear.
Modern-day footwear is now designed to take into consideration all the latest trends, fads and, occasionally, some research. People have forever been debating the merits of Nike Air, adidas boost, ASICS Gel or the Brooks Mojo cushioning in relation to each other without taking into consideration factors such as heel-ramp height, density of foam/EVA in the midsole, and width of the forefoot – and how these affect the foot’s biomechanics. When comparing sprinters and long- distance runners, different ankle, sub-talar (rearfoot) and mid tarsal joint (midfoot) biomechanics will result in different torques and ranges of motion in the joints during gait. It is very difficult to self-analyse in assessing footwear, so how are you meant to know what “normal” feels like?
For those seeking to take it to the next level, establishing correct running technique is more important than anything else, as correct motor patterning means your nervous system fires the right muscles during running, which is important for rate of recruitment of muscle fibres to create power and speed production. However, sometimes to increase performance, biomechanical alterations are required. In these instances, added control via the shoe or an orthotic is a viable option. The shoe is limited in the amount of control it can provide because wear tends to disperses unevenly based on the way you run. However, if you can generate a safe and regular wear pattern consistently in your shoe with an insole/orthotic, you increase the longevity of both the shoe and your body.
If you need to be put in a big, bulky shoe then there’s more than half a chance it’s because you have poor biomechanics, whether they are stemming from your hips or your feet. Although understanding the body is important, an assessment by a podiatrist may be the best method for those wanting to improve their efficiency during running or movement to ensure their body achieves its best for an extended period of time.