A technique developed at the University of Calgary studies runners' gaits to reveal the causes of injuries. ((CBC))

A state-of-the-art technique developed by researchers at the University of Calgary is providing new insight into the root causes of running injuries.

Using six cameras and the world's largest database of biomechanics, strength, flexibility and anatomical alignment, experts at the Running Injury Clinic give patients a three-dimensional report on their risk factors.

"We consider every injury to be a puzzle. And there's four pieces to that puzzle. How they walk and run, their biomechanics, their strength, their flexibility and their alignment," said the clinic's director, Dr. Reed Ferber, who created the diagnostic technique.

Most walking and running injuries have little to do with the area where a person actually feels pain, he said.

For example, knee injuries are often caused by a problem in a person's hips, he explained. So Ferber's gait analysis system uses motion-capture cameras to zero-in on the origin of the problem.

"We still treat the injury in terms of what's the weakest link in their chain. But then we determine what's the root cause and we start working on that in order to optimize their treatment and prevent future injuries," he said, adding that his research shows 90 per cent of patients are injury free within four to six weeks.


The Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary uses several cameras to analyze how a runner moves. ((CBC))

For avid runner Carla Robbins — who was sidelined by piriformis syndrome, where inflammation irritates a person's sciatic nerve — the insights offered by Ferber's clinic allowed her to get back to the sport.

"Even walking really hurt. Any kind of movement really hurt," she said.

In Robbins' case, the clinic determined she needed exercises to strengthen the muscles in her hips.

"It was extremely effective. I ran a half marathon no less than two months later."

Ferber said the service is now offered at two clinics downtown in addition to the university location, and there are plans to expand to Banff and Victoria.