Emerging technology helps runners avoid injury, get faster at the 173rd Fighter Wing

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

Master Sgt. Justin Lafon stares intently at an image of a skeleton striding along, watching legs, feet and knees working in concert. The knee sweeps forward rolling the foot onto the toes and lifting it into the air—a tracking line depicts the path the foot takes—before planting it once again onto the surface, shifting downward as weight settles onto the leg—again and again.

The bones he’s looking at are his own. It’s the first time he’s ever seen his running stride from the outside, particularly with detailed tracking analysis showing the exact path all of his joints are taking. It’s a brand new program brought to the Airmen of the 173rd Fighter Wing by the Health Awareness and Education Team (HEAT). It’s called Run D.N.A. says certified corrective exercise specialist Amy Jones, and it represents an opportunity for every Airman to avoid injury as they train for their fitness test, or otherwise enjoy running.

“Running is a huge source of injury,” she said. “Typically, that results from over working—not knowing how to run in terms of intensity level and running too hard for too long.”

That approach, readily identifies itself in the form of knee pain, low back pain, Achilles pain and foot or ankle pain, she says.

“Running is a part of your life in the military whether you choose to do it year-round or one month out of the year for the PT test,” she says.

That annual one-month crucible works for some Airmen, many of them young, but she stresses that it can backfire.  

“It’s a recipe for injury,” she states, “you’re going to go from a state of rest where your body is not used to any sort of physical activity that resembles running and you jump right into running and your running every day and running hard.”

Jones says she and her team can help using Run DNA; “This is cutting edge technology and it’s something that not a lot of Air Force Bases or Air Guard bases have access to.”

The mechanics involve placing 18 different feedback sensors on the legs, knees, hips, ankles and feet and then using a computer based video system to capture their stride on a treadmill.

“We are able to take a single capture,” she said referring to the video file, “and then view it from every single angle.”

The Run DNA software analysis is instant, spitting out solutions for gait problems, fixes for problems like over-striding or favoring one side or the other. If a runner wants to save the file for future reference, they can do that as well.

Lafon, who is an avid runner and maintains excellent physical condition, says he was able to make several improvements during the session itself.

“I wanted to see what my stride looks like and see some areas for improvement,” he said. “I’ve pretty much been free-wheeling it, going out on my own.”

He left with information on mobility and stretching tailored to him specifically and the promise of more efficient running form.

Senior Master Sgt. Colin Carr, who just got certified to administer tests, says it’s useful for any runner regardless of ability or experience.

“I think it’s fun to have this high-tech, super-professional view of how you run,” he said, “you never get that anywhere unless you are a professional.”

Carr and Jones have just begun testing and are taking appointments for those who are interested.  Call the 173rd Fighter Wing Resiliency Operations Center to schedule an appointment.