Over March Break I had the opportunity to travel with the South Simcoe & Dufferin (SSD) Track & Field Club to Orange Beach, Alabama. There were 22 athletes, 3 coaches, 2 photographers and myself on this trip. The majority of the athletes were high school students that will go on to compete at OFSAA this year. Some of them will also compete at the National and Junior National level. They were an incredibly inspiring group to work with as a lot of them are thinking about running in university and are fighting to get recognized and for a shot at a scholarship. SSD has a strong lineage of runners that have gone on to compete at the collegiate and university level.
We left Barrie at 5:00am Friday morning and drove to Kentucky for an overnight stay. While at the hotel I was able to join the distance runners for a light jog to loosen up from the day of travel. I desperately needed a workout after sitting on the bus for 10+ hours. However, this was also a great opportunity to bond with athletes and coach as we could chat while we ran. I was able to talk with the coach about his goals for each athlete and ask what could be improved about the running mechanics for each of them. We decided to run behind the group which allowed me to analyze their running gait in a natural environment. Quite often, I get athletes to run on a treadmill so I can analyze their gait as this is the most realistic test in the clinical setting. However, gait patterns may be different in treadmill running vs. outdoor running. The gait patterns that I noticed in the runners (external rotation of the foot, dynamic knee valgus, overstriding and prolonged pronation) provided me with valuable information that would help guide the treatment plans for each athlete. Then when the athletes came to me with “tight calves”, knee pain or hip pain, I had a good idea why this was occurring.
The second day, we travelled from Kentucky to Orange Beach, Alabama. Spending that much time on the bus was a little draining but the athletes were a constant source of entertainment. Having so much free time on the bus allowed me to have a one-on-one interview with each athlete. This was extremely beneficial for me as well. I was able to find out how much training they had been doing prior to this training camp, which allowed me to flag the people at higher risk of injury during this training camp. I also asked if they had any ongoing injuries, what their goals were for the season and what they wanted to improve in their stride. Again, this was important information as I could use it to guide my physical examination and treatment for each athlete.
Throughout the week in Alabama the group trained at the Gulf Shores Sportsplex with the Niagara and Etobicoke Track & Field Clubs. There were two workouts per day, but not all of them were on the track. The coaches also mixed in pool runs and core training sessions. I watched each of the athletes complete their core exercises and assessed for movement quality. Most of the sprinters would go get an excessive curve of the low back (hyperlordosis of the lumbar spine) as they began to fatigue. I would correct the athletes posture with verbal and tactile cues and then the next time I saw them for treatment we would run through rehabilitative exercises for these athletes to help maintain intra-abdominal pressure and core stability. A few of the sprinters had chronic hip flexor strains and of course they were the ones with poor core stability in the sagittal plane. This provided an awesome opportunity to educate the athletes and the coaches about pelvic tilting. Although these athletes were “strong” and able to complete the core workout it is important for both the athlete and coach to look at the quality of movement. If they get an anterior pelvic tilt and excessive curvature of the low back then the hip flexors (i.e. psoas and iliacus) will have to work harder to pull the leg forward for each stride. Additionally, if they continually go into these positions while they are running the hip flexors will be chronically lengthened. This can lead to hip flexor tendinopathies or myofascial pain syndromes.
For some of the athletes I was treating injuries but for others I was working on running biomechanics and providing performance care. I really enjoyed this style of treatment as it allowed me to work with the athlete and the coach to improve that athlete’s performance. Runners are taking a lot of impact through their feet and it is quite common for the joints of the foot to become restricted. Athletes will then develop different strategies to get around this such as external rotation of the foot and dynamic knee valgus. So, when the coach and/or athlete noticed that something was “off” I would treat them to restore joint mechanics and get them back to the track. The treatment styles that I used were a combination of manipulations of the joints of the foot, ankle, hip and low back, soft tissue therapy and rehabilitative exercises. The coach and I worked as a team to improve gait patterns through cueing and trackside treatment.
I was very impressed with the level of commitment of both the coaches and the athletes during this training camp. I look forward to working with these athletes in the future and wish them the best of luck in the upcoming season!
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