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The Runner's Gait: Part 6 - Terminal Swing Phase

Updated: Dec 4, 2023


The terminal swing phase in gait is the critical final step before foot-ground contact. It ensures that the lower limbs are optimally positioned, with the hip and hamstrings guiding the foot's speed and direction for a balanced landing.


The fascial system is central to this phase, acting like a support network that manages leg position and force. Its elasticity also stores and releases energy, aiding in the overall efficiency of movement. This phase is a blend of precise muscle and fascial coordination, crucial for both performance and injury prevention.


Article Index


Anatomical Structures

Motion Specific Release

Conclusion & References

 

Key Anatomical Structures:


Hamstrings:


During the terminal swing phase of the gait cycle, the hamstring muscles play a crucial role in controlling the forward momentum of the leg, preparing it for ground contact. If there's a dysfunction in the hamstrings, you might observe the following symptoms:


  1. Altered Landing Mechanics: Hamstring dysfunction may compromise control over the leg's forward momentum, potentially leading to an awkward or misaligned foot strike. This can increase stress on the lower extremity and may contribute to a heightened risk of injury.

  2. Increased Ground Contact: Inability to adequately control the leg's descent might result in a 'slap down' foot strike, where the foot spends more time in contact with the ground. This could lead to inefficient running mechanics and increased fatigue.

  3. Compensation Patterns: The runner might adopt compensatory movements to manage the lack of hamstring control, such as overusing the quadriceps to decelerate the leg. This could lead to muscle imbalances and potentially increase the risk of injury.

  4. Reduced Stride Length: Hamstring dysfunction could limit the final extension of the leg in the terminal swing phase, leading to a shortened stride length and potentially a slower running pace.

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

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



Gluteus Maximus:


In the terminal swing phase of the gait cycle, the Gluteus Maximus muscles play a significant role in preparing the body for the upcoming heel strike and beginning of the stance phase. If there's a dysfunction in the Gluteus Maximus muscles, you might observe the following symptoms:


  1. Altered Landing Mechanics: If the Gluteus Maximus isn't functioning correctly, the runner may struggle to adequately control the leg's descent and position for the upcoming ground contact. This can lead to an unsteady or misaligned foot strike, increasing stress on the lower extremity and potentially heightening the risk of injury.

  2. Compensation Patterns: With Gluteus Maximus dysfunction, the runner may overuse other muscles, such as the hamstrings or lower back muscles, to compensate for the lack of hip extension and control. This could lead to muscle imbalances, increased strain on these compensating muscles, and a potentially heightened risk of injury.

  3. Reduced Stride Length: Dysfunction in the Gluteus Maximus could limit the final extension of the leg in the terminal swing phase, leading to a shortened stride length and potentially a slower running pace.

  4. Decreased Running Efficiency: The overall efficiency and fluidity of the running gait may be compromised due to Gluteus Maximus dysfunction, potentially affecting the runner's speed, endurance, and overall performance.

  5. Increased Fatigue: If other muscles have to compensate for the Gluteus Maximus dysfunction, they may fatigue more quickly, reducing the duration or intensity at which the runner can exercise.

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

 

Visual Cues Checklist


Visual cues indicating potential dysfunctions in key anatomical structures during the terminal swing phase:


Hamstrings:

  • Awkward foot strike

  • Prolonged ground contact ('slap down' foot strike)

  • Overuse of quadriceps

  • Shortened stride length

Gluteus Maximus:

  • Unsteady or misaligned foot strike

  • Overuse of hamstrings or lower back muscles

  • Shortened stride length

  • Lack of running fluidity

 

Motion Specific Release


MSR Treatment Demonstration

The Runner's Gait: Part 6 - Terminal Swing Phase - In this video Dr. Abelson Demonstrates effective MSR procedures to release key anatomical structures.



 

Conclusion


In summary, the terminal swing phase acts as a critical juncture in the gait cycle, setting the stage for seamless ground contact and a renewed movement cycle. This phase is a coordinated ballet involving crucial anatomical players such as the hamstrings and the Gluteus Maximus. These muscles harmonize to regulate the leg's velocity and trajectory, culminating in an optimally-positioned foot landing. Any discord among these muscle groups could trigger a cascade of problems, including irregular landing mechanics, compensatory movements, reduced stride length, and compromised running efficiency.


The fascial system further augments this intricate biomechanical dance. Serving as the connective tissue network that integrates various anatomical structures, the fascia ensures precise positioning and controlled deceleration of the leg. Its elastic properties also function as an energy recycling system, cushioning the landing and efficiently propelling the subsequent phase of gait. Given these multifaceted roles, safeguarding the integrity and synchronicity of these anatomical components is vital for achieving an effective gait cycle, enhancing athletic performance, and reducing the risk of injuries.


 

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

  6. Iosa, M., Fusco, A., Marchetti, F., Morone, G., Caltagirone, C., Paolucci, S., & Peppe, A. (2012). The golden ratio of gait harmony: repetitive proportions of repetitive gait phases. BioMed research international, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/918642

  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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