Each year I volunteer to marshal a 10 kilometre cross-country fun run which is put on as a fundraiser for a local school. I always really enjoy the event as it an opportunity to observe how a large sample of people move. The runners at the front of the field move incredibly well; making the motions appear fluid and efficient with no wasted effort. It comes as no surprise to me that the further down the field you get, the more knee supports you see being worn by the runners and the more difficult and painful the effort of running appears to be.
This year I decided I would keep a mental note of the proportion of those runners wearing knee supports who exhibited out-turned feet as they ran. It wasn’t difficult for me to remember the proportion because it turned out to be 100%.
100% of the runners wearing knee supports ran with out-turned feet!
It is most likely that this observation comes from the fact that the out-turned feet problem caused knee pain which then led the runners to (mistakenly) start relying on knee supports to manage their pain.
We have written on this website before about how, when we perform movements with out-turned feet and when the knees point inside the direction of the toes, a myriad of biomechanical problems emerge which can lead to injuries of the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and even our backs.
So what is the solution to this epidemic of recreational runners towards the back of the field with knee injuries from out-turned feet? The advice I always give to people who are looking to get back into an exercise routine after a long break (in fact this is the advice I give to people who have been exercising for years) is to look to work on learning how to move properly through learning the techniques of slower strength exercises like squats before moving onto faster movements like running.
If all these people with the knee supports had embarked on learning to squat first, a good trainer could have pointed out their out-turned foot problem, corrected it with lower leg soft tissue work and real calf stretching. They wold have learned about how external rotation strength from the glutes during the squat helps orientate the knees to point with (or slightly outside) the direction of the toes instead of inside and how this strength and awareness can then carry over to running and other movements. They would also have built up lots of well needed whole-body strength which would have prepared them for the challenges of running. Most of all they would have developed an appreciation for the importance of movement quality as the foundation for a lifetime of pain-free effective exercise.