Body Asymmetries: How Past Injuries Can Affect a Runner’s Gait

What is meant by “body asymmetry?”  The term is used to describe when both parts of the body don’t line up or appear in sync.  It could be as simple as having a left foot slightly longer or wider than your right one. For runners, body asymmetry can mean a drooping right shoulder or outward-turning left knee.

But why do these things happen? In this video by Ian Adamson, former adventure-racing world champion and director of education at Newton Running, he uses himself as an example of someone who runs with several body asymmetries.

Does this affect his performance? Probably not. Two years ago, he was first masters finisher at the Badwater ultra in Death Valley.

Ian explains his body’s anomalies — left hand higher than right one, right foot turning out, right shoulder off– as a result of past injuries.  As he states, “Unless you know the history of a runner, you don’t know why these things happen — but you can’t stop what happened in the past.”

Screen shot 2013-01-26 at 4.11.44 PMSo what happens is that the body compensates by making these minor physical adjustments.

Sometimes, one’s body asymmetries  aren’t the consequence of a former injury, but can be the long-term result of habit or lifestyle developed in one’s youth. Like in the case of Ethiopian running legend Haile Gebrselassie, four-time world 10,000 meters champion and former marathon world record-holder. He runs with his arms crooked, because he used to carry his books in his left hand on the long walk to and from school.

“Always you hold your book on the left side,” he told one journalist from U.K.’s Daily Mail on the eve of the 2012 London Olympics. “You have to hold not just this book, otherwise it drops. To take care of your book, my left hand is not active. It is more relaxed.”

Geb’s barefoot-and-book-carrying school days left a permanent imprint on his body, even as an adult.

–Bill Katovsky

One Response to “Body Asymmetries: How Past Injuries Can Affect a Runner’s Gait”

  1. Barefoot Emi says:

    I dislocated my right knee when I was 19 years old and constantly had pain on-and-off in that knee for many years afterwards. When I was in my late 30’s I started hiking to get fit and I wore all kinds of knee braces to try to avoid exacerbating the joint. After about a year of experimenting with different things, I was tired of wearing these devices and started analyzing my gait. I finally realized that when I walked I would lock my right knee, kind of like walking with a pegleg. I must have developed this gait over the years in response to my aching joint some time after the dislocation occurred. I had to re-teach myself how to walk properly by consciously remembering with every step to NOT lock my knee when I walked. Eventually the muscles in my right leg got stronger and I no longer needed to think about every step I took. I became a barefoot runner, trail running being my real passion, and have not had pain in my knee for almost 3 years now. I can’t even say that I have a “bad knee” anymore because my right leg is equally as strong and as capable as my left leg is. Becoming a barefoot runner, I feel much more in tune with my body and I can’t imagine my life without (pain-free) running.

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