Arm Swing Running
What the arms do and
should be doing during running is a topic that has little attention.
The lack of interest
likely has several explanations including a belief, that the arms while
running are used primarily for balance and have little to do with getting
the body moving forward. Some experts argue the focus should be on the
lower body and let the arms do whatever is natural to smooth out the
stride. Others argue that arm swing assists with forward propulsion,
assisting with the lift of the center or mass, and affecting momentum.
The ideal arm swing is up
for debate, and is based more on expert opinion than measured data. However
a safe assumption is that arm swing should be balanced and symmetrical. A
slow motion analysis using video can provide evidence of what your arm swing
Asymmetrical Arm Swing
A recent patient who is a
high school 400/800-meter runner complained of right anterior hip pain.
During slow motion video analysis of her running form the most striking
observation was an asymmetrical arm swing.
The backward swing of the
left arm was excessive compared to the right arm. The elbow swung backward
and came to the midline of the body.
On closer analysis the
moment that the left arm backward swing reached the peak or end of the
backward swing, the right foot was coming off the ground and the hip was at
it’s maximum amount of extension. Comparing the amount of hip extension
between the right and left leg at toe off there was greater amount of hip
extension on the right (symptomatic side) than the left.
The working hypothesis is
the excessive hip extension leads to excessive tensile loading or stretching
of the muscles, tendons, and bursa on the front of the hip. If she
consciously modifies her running form to eliminate the excessive backward
swing of the left arm it will lead to a decrease in the observed excessive
amount hip extension which is occurring at toe off on the right. She was
given instructions to modify he left arm swing and a repeat slow motion
video analysis she demonstrated symmetry of arm swing as well as hip
Several questions arise.
Which came first the excessive right hip extension at toe off or the
excessive backward swing of the left arm, or did they develop together. She
had just finished indoor track season and a majority of her training and
racing had been on a on a short indoor track with tight turns, and she was
consistently running counter-clockwise on the track. Perhaps this faulty
running form was an adaptation to running tight turns constantly turning to
the left. The recommended treatment was to consciously strive to keep her
arm swing symmetrical. Also she was instructed to run both clockwise and
counterclockwise direction on the track in training. This is a current
patient, so I am awaiting long term outcome to the recommended treatment.
A male high school middle
distance runner complained of a “stitch” or cramp in the right side, which
only occurred when he ran fast and hard. A slow motion video analysis was
done and the striking observation was asymmetrical arm swing. The backward
swing of the right arm was excessive. When the right arm swung backward the
trunk rotated excessively to the right.
The working hypothesis was
the excessive trunk rotation was straining and stretching the trunk muscles
and diaphragm. He was instructed to modify his arm swing to avoid excessive
backward swing of the right arm and avoid excessive right trunk rotation. A
repeat slow motion video analysis he was able to demonstrate symmetry of arm
swing and trunk rotation. For the last 6 months he has been able to avoid
Arm swing can be of
importance. Symmetrical arm swing is desirable. Asymmetrical arm swing can
be related to anatomical asymmetries, related to previous injury or
congenital deformity. Asymmetrical arm swing can indicate faults are
occurring in other regions of the body typically the opposite leg. Striving
to improve the mechanics of arm swing has potential in terms of alleviating
injury or improving performance.