Look at these kids running …  all but one shows poor form, but remember, these kids are still undergoing neurodevelopment and are learning to control their body parts. Remember, the maturation/myelination of the nervous system usually lags behind the development of the musculoskeletal system. 

In the photo, lets first focus on the happy lad in the green shirt. He sure looks like he is having fun, which is what running should be about in kids. If you try to make running a chore for kids you just might lose their love of it in the process. But our point here at The Gait Guys is to teach. So here in this photo are some good teaching points. You should see:

1- the stance phase leg (right leg) is spun out into external rotation. Not too much of a big deal because we do not know if he has finished the normal derotation process of the limb, sometimes this can carry into the puberty years even though for most kids the process is largely completed by his predicted age.

2- The pelvis has drifted laterally in the frontal plane past a perpendicular line up from his foot. This could mean alot of things including gluteus medius or abdominal weakness but the point here is that he has broken through the lateral line (frontal plane) of support up through the hip-pelvis-core chain. This is going to set up what the the left knee (swing leg) is doing and will set up #3.

3. Cross over gait is virtually guaranteed because of the lateral pelvis drift as noted in #2. It is virtually guaranteed as well because the swlng leg knee coming inwards is dictating it. IF the knee is coming inwards toward the midline the thing attached to it , the foot, is going to follow. The swing leg is a pendulum, if you shift the pivot point of the pendulum (in this case to his right) the pendulum will swing to the right. This is a self-perpetuating cycle and it will not correct without strengthening, awareness and drilling positive feedback changes.

4. Dr. Allen’s current thought experiment on Ballasts (see podcast 38) is playing out here with the left arm of this fella. If the pelvis drifts far to the right, the arm will move away from the body to move some of the left side body weight outwards to negate the right shift. This is pure balance physics.  Arm swing most of the time cannot be corrected without correcting the thing that causes the aberrant arm swing, and that is often (but not exclusively) aberrant lower limb and pelvis-hip-core or foot mechanics. There are exceptions, but often if you fix the lower limb and pelvis-hip mechanics  you will see an immediate change in the arm swing. If you force changes in arm swing without fixing the problem (and that is not to say there are not local arm swing etiologies) you may be  driving strength into a compensation pattern that you may not want or like.

5. The girl in the pink tights  … . she might have been modelling the boy in the green shirt. Same issues, same concerns.

6. The form we love the most ? The boy in the dark blue shirt and black shorts on the far right. Great form, no major issues here. We bet he didn’t hear the starters gun go off.

On a side note, the fella in the green shirt with that form he would be a champion race walker. He already has the hip action right, the cross over that is loved in that sport and the arm swing.  Maybe some exposure to an alternate sport is a better solution here ? Although we are always an advocate for correcting flawed biomechanics.

It is often painful for us to watch kids run. We know that much of the things we hate are temporary because of the neuro-developmental process. But sometimes, if kids run too much at a young age, and are pressed into long running miles or cross country at too young an age, these aberrant mechanics can become their new norm. This is the danger of plasticity in the nervous system. Repeated stimulation of a pattern engrains that pattern and the extent of a brain’s plasticity is dependent on the stage of neuro-development and the brain region affected.  When an aberrant running form is allowed to perpetuate into the mid-teenage years, when the majority of the synapses are already formed and neurologic “pruning” and myelination are ramping up, then the repeated exposure to the aberrant pattern can get the myelination. This is the most frustrating thing for us. We would rather see some intervention early on with the creation, strengthening and myelinating of correct motor patterns through skill development training rather than mileage training, rather than discarding the more appropriate synapses that could have, might have, should have, been formed. Our bodies and brain will develop depending on the exposures and demands put upon it. And here is the big key, if you do not clean up someone’s gait aberrancy(s) early on, one should not wonder down the road why they developed flat feet, bunions, early degenerative knees and the like. This is a fairly predictable machine, but you have to try to intervene early to prevent the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune later on.

Both the brain and the body will adapt to their environment, whether that is an optimal one or a compensatory one. It can myelinate either pathway. Which one will you choose for your kids ?

Shawn and Ivo, The Gait Guys

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