On the Move

Running the right way

Spaulding Rehabilitation Network
Christine Roy, a therapist at at the Wellesley Spaulding Outpatient Center, works with patient Natalie Ferber as part of the RunStrong Program.

Nike’s famous “Just Do It!” ad campaign was an enormous success for the sport shoe giant, but in many aspects it did a disservice to athletes. That’s because “just doing it” can lead to a raft of problems if you’re not doing “it” correctly.

Take running. Almost anyone can run, right?

“Everyone is a runner,” said Dr. Irene Davis, founding director of the Cambridge-based Spaulding National Running Center and a physical therapist. “Running is in our genes. It’s an activity, just like walking, that we develop naturally without being taught.”


But as “natural” an activity as running is, or should be, there’s little debate that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Just ask the experts at the center.

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“The biggest challenge to the beginner runner is knowing how to begin,” said Davis, who typically runs about 12 miles a week along the Charles River. “As with any new activity, you have to prepare your body for the new loads and progress slowly. The Spaulding . . . program is ideally designed for the beginner runner.”

Created by runners for runners, the program is currently called RunStrong but will be renamed this summer as part of a rebranding effort. It includes a video analysis of running form, postural assessment, flexibility and strength assessment, individual exercise instruction, instruction in proper form, and guidance in proper training.

“Part of the challenge for new runners is finding a level of comfort with their new fitness routine,” said Dr. Adam Tenforde, director of running medicine at the center. “Even more experienced runners don’t always feel great after taking a break when starting to run again. The body needs time to adapt to the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular demands of the sport.

“Proper screening to address faulty mechanics early may help reduce risk for injury and provide an overview of problem areas to address,” said Tenforde, a five-time All American at Stanford who ran professionally before attending medical school. “I often find that injured runners have strength and flexibility deficits that can stress joints, bones, tendons, and muscle and contribute to their risk for injury.”


While injury prevention is one of the program’s key goals, Davis emphasized the it doesn’t address existing injuries.

The program “is designed for the healthy runner,” she said. “People with running injuries should be referred for additional medical care. However, experienced healthy runners who want to remain injury free may also want to take advantage of this program.”

The center offers the program at seven satellite locations north, west, and south of Boston (see list below). The $175 fee includes a 60-minute evaluation and a 45-minute follow-up visit (students qualify for a discounted rate of $140).

“It’s worth noting the service is self-pay, and not covered by insurance,” said Tenforde. “However, running injury treatment can be costly, too, in total medical expenses and time resources.”

In other words, the program can be a sound investment.


“Dr. Davis has pioneered gait retraining strategies that can improve running mechanics, including alignment and rates of loading, or how hard someone strikes the ground,” said Tenforde. “Injuries are commonly attributed to training errors, improper equipment, and other behavioral issues, such as diet and sleep.

“While these can be factors, running mechanics also influence injury and are often missed in the treatment process,” he said. “This may explain why approximately 50 percent of runners become injured in a given year, and many may have recurrence of their injury.”

The program, Tenforde continued, seeks to prevent future injuries for both beginner and veteran runners.

“Experienced runners often have injuries that interfere with [their] performance and enjoyment of the sport,” said Tenforde, who said the program provides basic screening to address faulty running mechanics.

“Often I hear the medical advice many runners receive is to stop running” for all injuries, he said. “This isn’t a good solution for someone who loves the sport or is motivated to keep running.

According to Tenforde, pain that causes someone to compensate – to move or run differently – or pain localized to a bone mean a runner should stop doing so and see a physician familiar with running.

“For runners, I think the ‘why’ is critical,” he said. “Learning the ‘why’ of an injury allows the runner to see what he or she can do at each stage of recovery from injury.’’

Another goal of the program is to separate fact from fiction in the running game.

“There’s a lot of information available to a runner, and I think this can lead to confusion on best ways to prevent injury,” said Tenforde. “Some runners assume that injury only happens in a certain population, such as high-mileage or elite runners. This is contrary to clinical experience.

“Research has found that every runner is at risk for injury,” he said. “Therefore, being proactive on prevention is important.’’

Runners can sign up for Spaulding’s program at the following locations. All are Spaulding Outpatient Centers, unless specifically noted.

Framingham: 508-532-4262

Marblehead, Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA: 781-639-0055

Medford: 857-238-4904

Orleans: 508-833-4197

Quincy, South Shore YMCA: 617-952-6990

Sandwich: 508-833-4197

Wellesley: 781-431-9144, ext. 1201.

For more details, visit

Spaulding Rehabilitation Network
Dr. Irene Davis (in black jacket), founding director of the Cambridge-based Spaulding National Running Center, discusses a patient’s foot strike pattern with another therapist.

If you have an idea for the Globe’s “On the Move” column, contact correspondent Brion O’Connor at [email protected]. Please allow several weeks advance notice.