London 2012 Olympic athlete launches new running biomechanics service

This month Jo Pavey, three-time Olympian and the first British athlete to qualify for London 2012, launched a new, private running biomechanics service at the Oxford Gait Laboratory – a joint initiative by the Department of Engineering Science and the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre.

The run3D service is a collaboration between the University of Oxford and the University of Calgary (headed by Dr Reed Ferber in Canada).  It is the first centre in the UK that offers three-dimensional motion analysis to runners of all levels of ability and experience.

Jo Pavey - running on treadmillThe run3D team comprises physiotherapists and biomechanical engineers who specialise in 3D motion analysis. For runners, this service will make a significant difference in helping to address the root-cause of injury and prevent recurring injuries.  Jo Pavey, who has been tested by the run3D team, said: “Run3D has given me the opportunity to address my injury problems and that’s really exciting for me.  It’s perfect timing as we’re just about to go into Olympic year and I don’t want to leave any stone unturned.  I want to be able to train harder than ever before and really push the boundaries but I also want to know that I can do it safely without putting myself at risk of further injury.  Now I’ve got the results of my assessment and I can see the areas of concern, I’ll know exactly what I need to do if a niggle develops”.

Run3D uses infrared cameras and computer modelling to accurately calculate the joint angles at the hips, knees and ankles in the three planes of human movement. A runner’s biomechanics are compared to run3D’s extensive database in order to identify unusual patterns in his or her running style. This information is then used to identify the most likely cause of an injury, to recommend the best treatment and to prevent injury from recurring.

Jo Pavey and Dr Jessica LeitchDr Jessica Leitch, Research Assistant at the Department of Engineering Science who leads the run3D service, said: “We know that 50% of runners are injured each year. Current video analysis is only in 2D and is insensitive to the subtle biomechanical problems that might lead to a running injury.  The new 3D service offers a technical and clinical assessment which takes place in the Oxford Gait Laboratory.  First, our gait specialist Physiotherapist attaches small, reflective markers to the lower body. As the individual runs, 12 infrared cameras record the 3D positions of each marker 200 times a second.  The marker positions are then used to create a lower-limb model, from which we calculate the joint angles of the lower-limbs”.

Dr Leitch added: “Our Biomechanical Engineer then identifies parameters that have been associated with running related injuries and compares these variables to our database of uninjured runners.  For each parameter, we look at whether the data lies inside or outside our normal range, allowing us to identify any strange patterns in the way that the individual runs. Our custom-built software means that we can complete this stage of the analysis in about 10 minutes.  This type of assessment is the most advanced method of quantifying the way a person moves that is available at this time”.

Dr Amy Zavatsky, who supervises this project at the Department of Engineering Science, said: “The launch of run3D is the culmination of several months of hard work by Jessica Leitch. Funded for one year by the EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Scheme to undertake a feasibility study and produce a business plan for a running-injury clinic at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre (NOC), she has applied the expertise in running biomechanics gained during her doctoral research to this new and exciting initiative. The establishment of the run3D service strengthens the longstanding ties between the University of Oxford and the Oxford Gait Laboratory at the NOC. It is yet another example of a clinical application of biomedical engineering research in the Department of Engineering Science”.

Acknowledgements: University of Calgary; NOC; Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC); VICON