Running from the head down
Andy Franklyn-Miller and John Foster have developed a running re-education programme, which aims to reduce injuries
Of all the things I think I need to learn, running isn’t one of them. For three decades now, I’ve been pounding pavements and pitches, mountains and parks, at least three times a week, fair weather or foul.
After all those miles, you wouldn’t think there’s much more to know about the business of putting one foot in front of another in quick succession. Running is natural, something we learn instinctively from the moment we learn to walk.
This isn’t a view that Andy Franklyn-Miller and John Foster of the Sports Surgery Clinic wholeheartedly agree with. They point to the high level of injuries suffered by runners – up to 60 per cent will suffer an injury in any one year – as evidence that some of us just aren’t doing it right.
“People need to be taught how to run, just as they are taught how to swim or to play tennis,” says Franklyn-Miller.
Injuries cause some runners to pack it in. Others go down the surgical route. Franklyn-Miller and Foster’s contention is that many injuries can be successfully treated by analysing a person’s technique and retraining the key muscles to work in a different way.
The theory is that many of us develop an inefficient technique. This results in excessive forces on the muscles of the foot, leg and pelvis which can cause injury.
But adjusting a person’s running style and re-training muscles can work every bit as well as corrective devices such as orthotics or surgery.
Conscious of my own niggling injuries, I agreed to an offer to try their Running Re-education programme at the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry which, despite its name, is probably best known as a centre for hip operations for older people.
Both men, one a sports physician and the other a physiotherapist, served in the military, where they treated large numbers of soldiers with lower leg pain. Drawing on the insights provided by barefoot and Chi running advocates, they developed a one-week running course which led to greatly reduced levels of injury.
They broadened their research to encompass all running injuries and levels of ability. “Other people regard running as an end-point, but for us it’s a tool in treating injuries,” explains Franklyn-Miller.
For some injuries, this approach simply won’t work, and their first task is to de-select patients who require other tests, such as an MRI for stress fractures or blood tests for arthritis.