Gait Analysis Program Making Strides

Claremont — Laura Hagley is one smooth runner. She’s determined to make more runners in the Upper Valley reach the same point.

A doctor of physical therapy at Claremont’s Valley Regional Hospital, the 28-year-old Hagley spawned Video Gait Analysis for Runners last summer.

Conducted at the hospital, Hagley’s course is open for patients who are recovering from injuries as well as those hoping to improve performance. The program gauges runners’ gaits with the use of a treadmill and video equipment allowing Hagley to identify issues that may be leading to specific deficiencies.

“There are other gait analysis programs (in the area), but some of them do it without video and some of them are done by people who aren’t runners,” said Hagley, who ran track at Hamburg (N.Y.) High School and Pennsylvania’s Messiah College before becoming a marathon runner. “I talked to someone who’d had (gait analysis) done for an injury, and they were told that they should stop running. It’s hard for a runner to listen to that from someone who isn’t a runner themselves.”

After a questionnaire evaluating patients’ running and injury histories, Hagley tests patients on the treadmill — in their running shoes as well as barefoot. Once runners accelerate to a speed at which they would normally train, Hagley sets up a digital video camera to record, first at the posterior (rear) view and then on the saggital (side) view.

Later, viewing uploaded footage on a laptop, Hagley slows video playback to evaluate potential issues in the the two main facets of running, cadence and foot strike.

“Cadence is your step rate, the number of times your feet hit the ground in a minute,” said Hagley. “There are other factors (affecting) speed, but there’s a correlation between fast cadences and fast running times.”

Foot-strike patterns include heel (mainly associated with walking), toe (mainly associated with sprinting) and midfoot (“everything in between,” Hagley said).

“Every runner has their own unique pattern,” she said. “What shoes you wear have a lot to do with it. If you have a lot of cushioning in your heel, for example, it could affect the way you run.”

Hagley’s software allows her to type pointers on-screen and print them out to go along with the images of the runner. If a runner is lunging too high off the ground with each stride — excessive vertical displacement — they may be told to try to keep their flight in check. In general, vertical displacement should be roughly 4-6 centimeters for most runners.

Head-to-toe symmetry is also important for optimal running cadence, so Hagley evaluates the motions of runners’ arms, torso, pelvis, hips and knees.

“If your symmetry is off-balance, it can give us clues as to where you might have weakness or tightness,” Hagley said. “In some cases, you’re compensating because of a weakness between two points.”

The side view evaluates foot-strike patterns, including foot pronation (rotation) and the angles of the ankles and heels when they touch the ground (supination).

“It depends on the runner, but generally on a rear-foot strike, the ankle should be less than 10 degrees from the ground on contact,” she noted. “If you’re putting too much force on your heel, you could be sending the break force shooting up your leg instead of using the energy to propel yourself forward.”

Hagley shares her observations with patients with an evaluation form. She may also recommend exercises for improvements. Photos of the patient on the treadmill may be issued, with typed notes and diagrams.

Hagley, a member of the Upper Valley Running Club, has placed second among women at four different marathons and broke the three-hour barrier (2:59.25) this year at Hampton, N.H.’s Rockfest Marathon.

She hopes the gait analysis program will help more runners in the area reach their potential.

“Some runners, you tell them one thing to do and it really minimizes the effects of the injury,” Hagley said. “Every runner is different, but there are always things you can do to get better.”

While some insurance providers may cover the injury-recovery version of the program, most won’t for performance enhancement, Hagley said. The cost of the program is $150 and $50 for optional follow-ups.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.