Can biomechanical analysis cure Dathan Ritzenhein’s injuries?


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Dathan Ritzenhein just announced that he’ll be running the New York City Marathon this November, joining a stacked field that already includes Haile Gebrselassie and Canadian hope Simon Bairu. One thing that jumped out at me from the press conference (as reported by Letsrun) was his coach Alberto Salazar’s assertion that Ritz’s injury problems are a thing of the past thanks to some high-tech analysis:

“Gordon Valiant – the head of biomechanics for Nike – did an evaluation of Dathan and was able to find some things that are unique to Dathan with the way he runs and strikes his foot. With that (study completed), we now have some modified inserts. I wouldn’t call them orthotics – just an insert into the shoe where he has an abnormal amount of force near his third metatarsal. It seems to have alleviated his symptoms completely and we’ve retested him in the lab and shown those forces have been lessened tremendously.”

For those who’ve been following the barefoot running debate, this should raise some flags. For years, critics of the big shoe companies have pointed out that measuring forces in a lab setting doesn’t necessarily equate to a change in injury rates. Australian minimalist advocate Craig Richards said as much in an article I wrote back in 2008:

“Shoe researchers and manufacturers will try and bamboozle you with the results of hundreds of biomechanical studies,” [Richards said]. While these studies tell you how your stride is affected by the shoe, “they cannot currently tell you what this means for either the injury risk or performance of the wearer.”

Fair point — though, as I pointed out last month, minimalists are suddenly more enthusiastic about biomechanical studies now that Dan Lieberman and others have provided them with some studies of their own.

Anyway, we now have a study (with n=1) in which the manipulation of biomechanical forces in the foot is hypothesized to solve a longstanding injury problem. The outcome measure: whether Ritz makes it to New York in one piece, with an uninterrupted build-up. Here’s hoping!

4 Replies to “Can biomechanical analysis cure Dathan Ritzenhein’s injuries?”

  1. He does say however that he no longer heel strikes which is the main argument for minimal shoe running.

    [quote|author=Dathan Ritzenhein] I was definitely more of a hell-striker, so I’m definitely getting on to my midfoot more. I wouldn’t say I get all the way up to my toe. I think I’m more pretty much efficient for the marathon if I stay in more of a midfoot stance[/quote]

  2. That’s interesting, Richard — I hadn’t seen the RW report on the press conference, which puts things in a slightly different light compared to the Letsrun version.

    One thing I should note is that I do think it’s a good idea for Ritz and Salazar to try to figure out the cause of his recurrent injuries. As Amby Burfoot points out, Ritz has a long history of injuries, and if they want that to change before 2012, they have to try something now.

    What I was reacting most strongly to was Salazar’s apparent confidence that, now that they done a gait analysis and built a custom shoe insert, it’s all sorted out. But looking back, it’s the Letsrun version that makes it sound that way (they write that “Salazar thinks the issue has been figured out” and the foot problems are “a thing of past”). Salazar’s own quotes, especially in the RW version, aren’t quite so cocksure.

    Way back in 1999, when I was struggling with a knee injury that kept me from running for two years, I had a fancy (and expensive) gait analysis done, and had custom inserts built that addressed something going on in my right foot. I was ultimately able to return to full training (though that could also have been the result of all the physio and strengthening I was doing, or just the passage of time). So I certainly believe that altering the biomechanical forces in your stride does SOMETHING. I just think we still don’t have a very good handle on how to manipulate those changes — and it’s that disconnect between biomechanics and injury rates that prompted me to write this blog post.

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