BE it a result of last year’s Olympic fever or simply because of expensive gym membership fees, it’s an inescapable fact – the pavements and parks of Sheffield are teeming with runners.
In the warmer months each weekend seems to bring another charity run, city marathon or 10k, with participants determined to get fit and healthy by clocking up impressive distances.
Of course, some aspiring athletes don’t give their running technique a second thought, pulling on their trainers and launching themselves gamely into the race.
But according to Sheffield physiotherapist Phil Williams, many runners can avoid problems and injuries – and even improve their time – simply by analysing their own running style.
Phil is part of an eight-strong team of therapists at Broomhill practice The Physios, which has been treating patients for almost 20 years.
“Running is one of the most natural activities a human can do, it requires little or no equipment, and most of us have had a go at some point in our lives,” he said.
“I still get the same pleasure putting my running shoes on as I did when I was a kid, running to the post box to post a letter – timed by my mum of course!”
Phil said he has noticed a surge in the sport’s popularity recently.
“Take Endcliffe Park on a Saturday for example – in the morning, the park is full of eager runners of all abilities.
“It’s a great sight to see, and the variety of running styles always gets the physiotherapist side of my brain bursting with activity.
“I’m a runner myself, so it’s very rewarding to combine my knowledge and experience of running with my clinical skills that enable me to help people avoid problems, as well as rehabilitating injured runners.”
Phil said a major part of his work involves analysing how people move, and in particular how they run.
“Movement or gait analysis can even be enhanced by using slow motion video, which enables abnormal movement patterns to be identified more easily and for the patient to see it and understand it too.
“That way, corrections are made and this not only prevents problems from developing but also can improve individual performance.”
Aerobics instructor Alison Nockels, from Midhopestones, visited Phil while suffering from an episode of back pain and sciatica.
A scan showed a disc had been pressing on a nerve in her back, and she needed to recover in time to take part in the annual festive Percy Pud race, which follows a route along the Loxley Valley in Sheffield. “For someone so used to feeling fit and healthy, this period of intense pain was a real shock,” said Alison, aged 49.
“I could barely move around the house, never mind go for my usual five-mile run. The Percy Pud race was looming and I just couldn’t see myself being better for that.”
Physiotherapy sessions dealt with the pain, but further gait analysis showed Alison had underlying, unresolved issues.
“I had some residual weakness of key muscles in my leg and buttock caused by the nerve compression.
“Phil explained that, if left uncorrected, this would lead to me attempting to compensate for it, abnormal movement patterns, and ultimately pain and further injury. So we started on a specific strengthening programme, which brought a full recovery and a place in the starting line of the Percy Pud.”
Meanwhile Matthew Hardy, 38, from Nether Edge, said he found the extra advice helpful after eight years’ experience in road, fell and endurance events.
“I went to see Phil in order to try to avoid the injuries which crop up and keep me from running every now and then,” he said.
“On our first session Phil built a thorough picture from analysis of my running history, gait and form, as well as my own running preferences and goals. He recommended a number of technique changes to both reduce my times and risk of injury.
“It was a lot of information to absorb, but the dual approach to improve my times and endurance through technique changes and exercises, as well as pin-pointing where I may be prone to injury and how to avoid it, made the session extremely valuable.
“I now feel like I have a more comfortable and stronger running style, with some of the rough edges knocked off.”
Phil added that runners should ‘spare a thought for the small clues’ when they pull on their trainers. “They may have a large impact on injury prevention as well as improving running technique – you might find yourself running a few seconds, or minutes, quicker,” he said.