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The Runner's Gait: Part 5 - Mid Swing Phase

Updated: Dec 4, 2023


The mid-swing phase is a crucial part of the gait cycle, propelling the runner's forward momentum through intricate biomechanics. This phase unfolds with forward pelvic rotation alongside hip and knee flexion, setting the stage for the leg's impending ground contact. The hip flexors take center stage, lifting the foot and advancing the leg forward, while the hamstrings, through knee flexion, raise the foot higher to ensure clear ground clearance, readying the leg for the terminal swing phase.


At the heart of these biomechanical maneuvers are the body's fascial connections, notably the anterior and posterior fascial chains. Acting like an internal system of gears and pulleys, these tissue networks facilitate smooth force transmission during the mid-swing phase's dynamic movements. Through the fascial system, these motions harmonize, enhancing the grace and efficiency of the runner's gait, showcasing a well-coordinated interplay that underlines each stride.


Article Index:


Anatomical Structures

Motion Specific Release

Conclusion & References

 

Key Anatomical Structures and Observations:


Hip Flexors (Iliopsoas, Rectus Femoris):


During the mid-swing phase of the gait cycle, the hip flexors, particularly the iliopsoas and rectus femoris, are crucial for maintaining the forward movement of the leg and ensuring sufficient ground clearance. If a runner has a dysfunction in these muscles, several symptoms may be observed:


  1. Reduced Ground Clearance: The runner may struggle to lift the foot high enough off the ground due to the limited hip flexion, potentially leading to a risk of tripping or stumbling.

  2. Shortened Stride Length: A dysfunction in the hip flexors may hinder the forward propulsion of the leg, leading to a reduction in stride length.

  3. Altered Running Mechanics: The runner may adopt compensatory patterns to make up for the dysfunction, such as overuse of the hamstring muscles or an increase in pelvic tilt. This could potentially lead to other imbalances and an increased risk of injury.

  4. Decreased Running Efficiency: With less effective hip flexion, the overall efficiency and fluidity of the running gait may be compromised, potentially affecting the runner's speed and endurance.

  5. Increased Fatigue: Overcompensation by other muscle groups to make up for the hip flexor dysfunction may lead to quicker fatigue, decreasing the duration or intensity at which the runner can exercise.

  6. Pain or Discomfort: Depending on the severity of the dysfunction, the runner may experience pain or discomfort in the hip area, which could further influence their running mechanics and overall performance.


Quadriceps (Rectus Femoris, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius, Vastus Lateralis):


The quadriceps muscles, including the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and vastus lateralis, are integral during the mid-swing phase of the gait cycle. They help control the rate of knee flexion, ensuring a smooth transition into the terminal swing phase. If a runner has a dysfunction in the quadriceps during the mid-swing phase, several symptoms may be observed:


  1. Reduced Knee Extension: Quadriceps dysfunction could limit the ability to fully extend the knee in preparation for the terminal swing and initial contact phases. This could lead to a shortened stride length and reduced running efficiency.

  2. Increased Ground Contact: The runner's foot might have prolonged contact with the ground or 'drag' due to insufficient control over knee flexion, raising the risk of tripping or stumbling.

  3. Altered Running Mechanics: The runner may adopt compensatory movements to overcome the lack of knee extension, such as overuse of the hip flexors or hamstrings. This could lead to muscle imbalances and potentially increase the risk of injury.

  4. Decreased Running Efficiency: Quadriceps dysfunction could affect the smooth transition between phases of the gait cycle, potentially leading to decreased performance and increased fatigue.

  5. Anterior Thigh Discomfort: Depending on the nature of the dysfunction, the runner may experience discomfort or tightness in the anterior thigh, which could further affect gait mechanics over time.

  6. Increased Fatigue: Overcompensation by other muscle groups to compensate for the quadriceps dysfunction may lead to quicker fatigue, decreasing the duration or intensity at which the runner can exercise.


 

Visual Cue Checklist


Hip Flexors:

  • Low Ground Clearance: Foot barely lifts off the ground.

  • Short Stride: Reduced forward leg movement.

Quadriceps:

  • Limited Knee Extension: Knee doesn't fully straighten.

  • Foot Drag: Foot grazes or drags along the ground.


 

Motion Specific Release


MSR Treatment Demonstration

The Runner's Gait: Part 5 - Mid Swing Phase - The mid-swing phase is pivotal in the gait cycle narrative, driving the runner's forward momentum through a ballet of sophisticated biomechanics. In this video Dr. Abelson demonstrates effective MSR procedures to release key structures.


 

Conclusion


In summary, the mid-swing phase serves as a linchpin in the gait cycle, orchestrating the runner's forward momentum through intricate biomechanical processes. This phase is characterized by forward pelvic rotation and the flexion of both the hip and knee, requiring significant contributions from the hip flexors and quadriceps. Notably, the iliopsoas and rectus femoris act as essential facilitators in this dynamic, helping to ensure adequate ground clearance and forward leg movement. Any dysfunction in these muscles can manifest as challenges such as reduced ground clearance, shorter stride, compromised running mechanics, and even premature fatigue.


Moving to the quadriceps, these muscles—comprising the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and vastus lateralis—play a vital role in regulating knee flexion and facilitating the transition into the terminal swing phase. Dysfunction in this muscle group could lead to issues like compromised knee extension, longer ground contact times, altered biomechanics, and reduced running efficiency. Given these complexities, safeguarding the health and optimal function of these muscle groups is crucial. Understanding the biomechanics of the mid-swing phase and being vigilant for signs of muscle dysfunction are invaluable for enhancing running performance and minimizing the risk of injury.


 

DR. BRIAN ABELSON DC. - The Author


Dr. Abelson's approach in musculoskeletal health care reflects a deep commitment to evidence-based practices and continuous learning. In his work at Kinetic Health in Calgary, Alberta, he focuses on integrating the latest research with a compassionate understanding of each patient's unique needs. As the developer of the Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems, he views his role as both a practitioner and an educator, dedicated to sharing knowledge and techniques that can benefit the wider healthcare community. His ongoing efforts in teaching and practice aim to contribute positively to the field of musculoskeletal health, with a constant emphasis on patient-centered care and the collective advancement of treatment methods.

 

References

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  2. Hamill, J., & Knutzen, K. M. (2009). Biomechanical basis of human movement. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

  3. Cavanagh, P. R., & Lafortune, M. A. (1980). Ground reaction forces in distance running. Journal of Biomechanics, 13(5), 397-406. doi:10.1016/0021-9290(80)90033-0

  4. Lieberman, D. E., Venkadesan, M., Werbel, W. A., Daoud, A. I., D'Andrea, S., Davis, I. S., Mang'eni, R. O., & Pitsiladis, Y. (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature, 463(7280), 531-535. doi:10.1038/nature08723

  5. Mann, R., & Hagy, J. (1980). Biomechanics of walking, running, and sprinting. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 8(5), 345-350. doi:10.1177/036354658000800506

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  7. Kerrigan, D. C., Todd, M. K., & Croce, U. D. (1998). Gender differences in joint biomechanics during walking: normative study in young adults. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 77(1), 2-7. doi:10.1097/00002060-199801000-00002

  8. Taunton, J. E., Ryan, M. B., Clement, D. B., McKenzie, D. C., Lloyd-Smith, D. R., & Zumbo, B. D. (2002). A retrospective case-control analysis of 2002 running injuries. British journal of sports medicine, 36(2), 95-101. doi:10.1136/bjsm.36.2.95

  9. Meardon, S. A., Hamill, J., & Derrick, T. R. (2011). Running injury and stride time variability over a prolonged run. Gait & posture, 33(1), 36-40. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2010.10.009

  10. Lieberman, D. E., Venkadesan, M., Werbel, W. A., Daoud, A. I., D'Andrea, S., Davis, I. S., ... & Pitsiladis, Y. (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature, 463(7280), 531-535. doi:10.1038/nature08723

  11. Heiderscheit, B. C., Chumanov, E. S., Michalski, M. P., Wille, C. M., & Ryan, M. B. (2011). Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(2), 296-302. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181ebedf4

  12. Novacheck, T. F. (1998). The biomechanics of running. Gait & Posture, 7(1), 77-95. doi:10.1016/S0966-6362(97)00038-6

  13. Stearne, S. M., Alderson, J. A., Green, B. A., Donnelly, C. J., & Rubenson, J. (2016). Joint kinetics in rearfoot versus forefoot running: implications of switching technique. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(7), 1401-1410. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000919

  14. Hasegawa, H., Yamauchi, T., & Kraemer, W. J. (2007). Foot strike patterns of runners at the 15-km point during an elite-level half marathon. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(3), 888-893. doi:10.1519/R-22096.1

  15. Taunton, J. E., Ryan, M. B., Clement, D. B., McKenzie, D. C., Lloyd-Smith, D. R., & Zumbo, B. D. (2002). A retrospective case-control analysis of 2002 running injuries. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 36(2), 95-101. doi:10.1136/bjsm.36.2.95

  16. Kerrigan, D. C., Franz, J. R., Keenan, G. S., Dicharry, J., Della Croce, U., & Wilder, R. P. (2009). The effect of running shoes on lower extremity joint torques. PM&R, 1(12), 1058-1063. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2009.09.011

  17. Dierks, T. A., Manal, K. T., Hamill, J., & Davis, I. (2008). Proximal and distal influences on hip and knee kinematics in runners with patellofemoral pain during a prolonged run. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 38(8), 448-456. doi:10.2519/jospt.2008.2490

  18. Zadpoor, A. A., & Nikooyan, A. A. (2011). The relationship between lower-extremity stress fractures and the ground reaction force: a systematic review. Clinical Biomechanics, 26(1), 23-28. doi:10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2010.08.005

  19. Boyer, E. R., & Derrick, T. R. (2015). Select injury-related variables are affected by stride length and foot strike style during running. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(9), 2310-2317. doi:10.1177/0363546515592837


 

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