Priscah Jeptoo won a silver medal in today's Olympic Marathon, finishing in 2:23:12, 5 seconds behind Ethiopia's Tiki Gelana. An impressive time in wet slippery conditions. Yet it wasn't just her time that caught the eye. A few people noticed her unusual running form and the effect it had on her right knee. The way she swings her right leg is a little different from most elite runners – she seems to flick the right ankle out as the knee bends – but it's what happens on impact that would concern me;
The right hip adducts (comes in towards the midline) there is a valgus stress on the knee (the lower leg moves outward relative to the femur) and the right ankle appears to overpronate (although this is hard to tell).
If we add in guide lines it clarifies it a little;
It's not position that is necessarily of concern, but the difference between right and left. You might expect this running style to place more stress on lateral compartment of the knee (outside of the knee joint) and the patellofemoral joint. The ITB might tighten to compensate for the hip adduction. The inside of the ankle joint, Tibialis Posterior and Achilles tendons may be under greater load too. Higher up the chain, the hip and lower back might also suffer.
I couldn't tell what shoes she had on, @ThePhysioRooms has a keen eye and he suggested they might be Nike Flywire Racers. They certainly looked to be a minimalist shoe and you can bet your mum she wasn't wearing Brooks Beasts! (for non shoe-geeks and people who actually have a life they are a motion control shoe for overpronators). So it appears no attempt is made to correct her form from a footwear point of view, but then you'd expect racers in an event like this. But does her form even need correcting?
Jeptoo is an Olympic silver medalist, an elite athlete with a 2:20:14 PB for the marathon. In 2011 she won the Paris Marathon and came second at the World Championships. Priscah Jeptoo is part of an extreme talented group of Kenyan runners that are amongst the best in the world.
So does her unusual form really matter? It's likely she's always ran in this way. Her tissues will have adapted and strengthened in response to the stresses on them. It could be that she has an underlying biomechanical cause, for example a leg length difference, and what we see is actually a useful adaptation of the body to compensate.
More and more evidence seems to be emerging that even elite athletes have a host of biomechanical 'issues' and yet continue to compete at the highest level. Perhaps the issue is not what body you have but how you use it. Smart training with careful use of mileage prevents over stressing vulnerable tissues. Strength and conditioning work helps the muscles to absorb impact and reduce joint loading and rest is utilised as a valuable tool to allow tissues time to adapt.
So if you have somewhat unusual biomechanics, or form, you're really just like an Olympian and certainly one of many. In fact, are any of us actually biomechanically perfect? I highly doubt it.
My final thought is this, a little advice, if you google Jeptoo, you will get information about the highly decorated Kenyan runner. If you google Jetpoo you get something very, very different. Don't google Jetpoo!