Although running is extremely beneficial for overall health and wellness, the constant pounding on the pavement can wear on joints and bones over the years. Every runner has a different form, and as injuries arise, many of them can be attributed to, and fixed by alternating how they run.
Form examination, or gait analysis, is not a new concept to runners. In fact, many local running stores perform their own quick gait analysis to help athletes find shoes that will be the most comfortable and conducive to that individual’s form and regimen. However, a quick video, that typically just looks for pronation, or the inward or outward rotation of the foot, is not enough to identify the source of an injury or problem.
A new 3D gait analysis technology was recently launched in Milwaukee that takes gait analysis several steps further. The DragonPHY system can provide more than 40 gait measurements within seconds, that is impossible to point out through standard observation; after just a few minutes on a treadmill, while wearing eight lightweight sensors, a video avatar is created and can be manipulated to see exactly what is happening while an athlete runs or walks.
“DragonPHY is an easy-to-use system that will revolutionize gait assessments for performance improvement, injuries, and other gait-related issues,” said Michael Kuharske, chief executive officer of Metria Innovation, Inc., the parent company of DragonPHY. “Our patented technology is the only system designed exclusively for use by physical therapists and fitness professionals in the clinic environment.”
I got the opportunity to test out DragonPHY myself, and saying I was impressed would be a complete understatement.
The nearest location for Chicago-area athletes is at Grayslake Rehabilitation in Grayslake, Illinois, which is where I went. After a few minutes warming up on a treadmill, Robin Erker, the physical therapist and owner of the facility, strapped on my sensors and I hopped on a different treadmill that was set up for video recording. Although light, I could definitely feel some weight added to me while I ran, but it was not limiting. Plus, I felt like Lebron James getting recorded for video game footage, which is a pretty cool feeling.
Erker told me to run until I felt I was at a consistent and comfortable pace, and then stop. This ended up being only about 30 seconds, and then we went over to the computer to breakdown my gait.
Seeing an avatar of my hips and legs on a computer was extremely cool. Immediately, Erker noticed that my right foot crossed midline in every step, and asked if I ever had knee problems. While I responded yes, I haven’t for a couple years, but it was interesting to already know a potential cause of that pain. However, when she slowed down the video footage even more, she changed her mind.
“Actually, I think your left leg sucks, no offense,” Erker told me. What she noticed was that with every left step I took, my leg sort of buckled, which meant my right leg was compensating for this weakness, essentially causing the crossover. She then asked if my knee problems were more in my right leg, to which I responded yes. Erker also told me that I don’t move my arms enough, which I’ve been told my whole life, but she was able to identify that problem in less than a minute.
Because I did not have any pain at the time, Erker said she was not going to correct my form or give me advice to fix this, as “you don’t fix something that’s not broken … people have wacky forms, and sometimes, that just works for them.” If I started feeling pain as my marathon training progressed, however, she would use this footage to look into it.
DragonPHY can be used for a variety of reasons; the most beneficial that both Erker and Kuharske have found thus far, though, is determining when an athlete fatigues, and why. Erker has worked with several athletes doing two separate analyses: one with just a short warm up, like I did, and then another after a longer, fatiguing run, to compare how the form changes and what’s happening when.
“Picture a marathon runner trying to figure out why they consistently develop a pain at a certain mile mark,” said Kuharske. “A quick baseline assessment with DragonPHY before a run and then another assessment after a few miles could pinpoint a form change that is causing muscle fatigue or potentially identify a minor injury. Once a physical therapist knows the source of the pain they can zero in on helping athletes understand and deal with body stresses more accurately.”
For example, this past weekend I ran 12 miles, the most I have gone in my training yet, and I did feel some knee pain after. This could be because I fatigue at 10 miles, and that’s when my form starts deteriorating and causing problems.
DragonPHY also inputs the data received from the 3D gait analysis, and compares it to a peer group of runners. Athletes can then compare hip, knee and ankle movements to runners of similar demographics, which can help them further understand how they run.
From my short 3D gait analysis, I honestly feel more in-tune to how I run. I have even tried making small changes during my runs since, such as moving my arms more and focusing on lower-body strength training.
Right now, DragonPHY is available at five locations in Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio. At Erker’s clinic, it costs $125 for an initial analysis, and $200 to video both before and after fatigue. Kuharske says they are trying to expand this technology across the Midwest, and believes it is revolutionary to injury detection and prevention.
“A huge number of runners get injured annually, so having a ‘baseline’ assessment of your form could be hugely useful for even the average runner as that would allow a PT to help them get back to their healthy normal that much faster,” Kuharske said.