Preventing Injury: Proper Walking & Running Form

Why Are We At Risk For Injury When Walking Or Running?

I have seen hundreds of patients for conditions related to walking or running. These conditions are extremely painful and limiting – often forcing people into stopping any walking or running routine. They also impact one’s ability to work and perform regular daily activities. Few were aware that a walking or running routine was putting them at risk for injury. Just as few were aware of the ways to prevent these injuries.

Walking and running require a very specific form. This form is achieved when appropriate levels of strength, mobility, flexibility, endurance and active control are present. If someone is walking or running with improper form, they are at risk for injury.

What Is Proper Form With Walking & Running?

Proper Walking Form Includes:

  • Keeping Your Head Up: Being sure to keep your eyes looking forward with your chin up is important for prevention of neck, shoulder and back pain. It helps maintain proper spine alignment and reduces risk for muscle spasms and issues like disc herniations.
    • A good tip is to pretend like your head is being pulled up by an invisible string that is directly above you.
  • Moving Your Arms: Keeping the walking motion fluid throughout your body is important. This is made easier by swinging your arms as you walk. When you take a step with your left foot, the right arm should swing forward in a relaxed fashion. A step with the right foot should be accompanied by a relaxed swing of the left arm.
    • Avoid bending the arms at the elbows and ensure the arm is moving through the shoulders.
    • Movement of the arms should be no higher than the abdominals.
    • The arms should move from front to back and not across your body.
  • Lengthening Your Spine: Focus on keeping your spine upright. Think about keeping your shoulders back but relaxed while maintaining a strong foundation through your lower back and abdominals. This reduces risk for muscle spasms, disc herniations and even falls.
    • Avoid slouching, leaning forward at the waist or hunching forward in the shoulders.
  • Engaging Your Core: While you are walking, concentrate on keeping your core muscles engaged. Think about gently sucking in your stomach by drawing your navel back towards your spine. This reduces stress on your lower back and makes you much more stable.
  • Stepping In A Heel-To-Toe Pattern: As you take a step and your foot approaches the ground – the first part of your foot to hit the ground should be your heel. This is known as “heel strike”. This is followed by rolling forward through the middle of your foot and into your toes. Lastly, the foot should leave the ground by gently pushing off at your toes.
    • Avoid having the first point of contact being the middle of your foot or your toes as this places abnormal stress on structures further up your leg.

Proper Running Form Includes:

  • Keeping Your Head Up: For exactly the same reasons as walking – keeping your head up and looking ahead of you is essential when running. It helps to maintain proper posture through the rest of your body and reduces the risk of a variety of conditions involving muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, discs and joints.
    • As you fatigue during your run, the likelihood of your head falling forward increases. Be very aware of this and make efforts to keep your ears in line with the top of your shoulders.
  • Keeping Your Shoulders Back: Similar to walking but with a more aggressive approach. When running it is important to concentrate on gently squeezing your shoulders together.
    • As your run goes on you will fatigue and the likelihood for slouching or shrugging your shoulders will increase. Be aware of this and make mental efforts to keep your shoulders relaxed and back.
    • This maximizes speed and endurance as you run and is well worth the effort to maintain.
  • Moving Your Arms: As is the case with walking, your arms should move in a specific manner. There should still be a relaxed forward-to-backward motion at the shoulders with the right arm moving forward with the left leg and vice versa. There is one major difference between movement of the arms when walking and when running.
    • When running you should keep your elbows at your sides and bent at 90 degrees.
  • Keeping Your Hands Relaxed: Many people find themselves making fists as they run. This not only uses precious energy but it increases the chances that you will be tense in other areas of your arms, shoulders and neck. Be sure to keep your hands very relaxed and save that energy for your shoulders, core and legs.
  • Lengthening Your Spine: Just like with walking, maintaining a lengthened spine is very important for reducing injury risk as well as improving overall performance. Keeping an upright posture improves the transfer of force from the ground and up through your body. This limits energy exertion as well as stress on the structures involved.
  • Engaging Your Core: For the same reasons as walking but with more intense awareness due to the increased stress levels that running places on your body. Gently tighten up the abdominal muscles by keeping the navel drawn back towards your spine and this will improve stability through your hips and lower back.
  • Being Aware Of The Position Of Your Knees And Shins: This is a difficult concept for a lot of people and it becomes even more challenging to maintain as fatigue sets in. Below are a few key points for how to move your knees as you run:
    • When each foot strikes the ground – the knee of that leg should be directly above it with the shin as perpendicular as possible to the middle of the foot at this time.
      • If your heel hits the ground first then the angle between your shins and mid-foot is too large. If your toes hit the ground first then this angle is too small.
    • Be sure that your knees move straight forward and backward as you run. Do not allow them to angle outward or inward.
  • Maintaining Proper Initial Contact: This phase of running form is very different from walking. With walking, the goal is to land on the heel first. With running, however, this can be extremely detrimental in regards to energy conservation as well as injury prevention. When you run, you want the first point of contact to be between the middle of your foot and the ball of your foot.
    • If you are unable to change your point of initial contact then I highly recommend seeking professional assistance in the form of a running analysis. Also – seeking professional assistance for finding the best running shoe for you can be very beneficial for injury prevention.

Your Place PT Offers FREE Walking & Running Analysis

If you’re interested in receiving a thorough analysis of your walking and/or running form then please reach out to Dr. Allen at your earliest convenience. He will come to you and analyze your form using video analysis software. He will then break down all of the pros and cons of your form and advise you on ways to improve the form overall. Injuries with walking and running can be largely prevented when someone is aware of any abnormalities they may be demonstrating and how to correct them.

This service is completely free of charge and offered in an effort to keep the people of Northeast Florida active and injury-free while avoiding pain killers, injections and surgeries.

Reach Out To Schedule Your Analysis Today!

Call Or Text Dr. Allen: (904) 537 – 0301

E-Mail Dr. Allen: frankallen@yourplacept