Gait Analysis Helps Athletes Improve Performance, Prevent Injuries

Most competitive athletes understand gait analysis as a value-added service offered by shoe retailers to match people with the right shoe for their individual body mechanics. While these methods are useful, a more extensive form of motion analysis is now available to athletes through the Neurorehabilitation and Robotic Clinic at the Indiana University Health Neuroscience Center.

Using state-of-the-art equipment, this new lab provides a thorough, three-dimensional evaluation of individual movement patterns, which can help athletes improve performance, prevent injuries and, if appropriate, direct them to physical therapy or other treatments for specific weaknesses or injuries. As the only clinic of its kind in Indiana, the Neurorehabilitation & Robotic Clinic also helps physical therapists treat injuries or recurring problems with test results for the general population.

A community resource for teams and individuals

"We see this as a resource for people who are very serious about their sport, whether it's running, tennis, or even the casual weekend warrior who may have a nagging issue that could be anything from shin splints to bursitis," says Ryan Cardinal, PT, DPT, program manager for the clinic. "Motion analysis allows people to see if there is an underlying biomechanical reason for that."

Cardinal says the clinic helps individuals and teams by providing access to the technology for in depth motion analysis. “With this information in tow, they have another nugget of information they can use to treat injuries or improve sports performance,” he says. Runners, for example, may improve with an assessment of form, posture, stride and energy expenditure. An evaluation at the clinic could identify the need for physical therapy or orthotics to improve gait or reduce stress on a joint.

What you get and how much it costs

For $400, an athlete receives a set of data, analyzed by a biomechanist. If necessary, individuals may be referred to a physical therapist and/or orthopedic physician for further treatment or evaluation.  A functional movement screen to evaluate instabilities, strengths, weaknesses and movement patterns, such as jumping and landing mechanics, complements the tests. Depending on individual results, some athletes may choose to pursue additional tests that add $100 to $600 to the overall cost—typically an out-of-pocket expense for the individual.

Getting at root causes

Studying people in motion from the top, side and front gives experts a sense of what causes the body to perform the way it does. "A 3D gait analysis allows you to see the body in motion in all three planes of motion, which is impossible to see with the naked eye," says biomechanist Jeff Frame, MS, coordinator of motion analysis at the clinic.

Motion analysis permits experts to compute the stress on any given joint and get at the root cause of pain. That’s done by looking at such things as force plate measurements, ground reactions, bone length and the angles between two bones. “What we've done is changed the way a physical therapist may look at knee injuries by getting them to look away from the knee and redirecting them toward the hip or foot to see what's going on there to cause the symptoms they have at the knee,” Frame says. “You can't do that without looking at the motion in all three planes.”

Originally, the technology was used to help physicians make treatment decisions for pediatric cerebral palsy patients. Despite the sophisticated data it delivers, Frame says it's only a tool. “It doesn’t just spit out an answer,” he says. “It still requires expert interpretation.”

To schedule an appointment for your individual gait analysis, call (317) 963-7050.

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