The Heel Whip: a runner's worst nightmare.

How Profound Strength approaches correcting a heel whip in runners.
In my opinion most medical professionals avoid trying to explain what and how one acquires and gets rid of a heel whip because it is a complex issue that can be solved in many different ways. There is some conflict of how it should be fixed. What I intend on posting here is strictly anecdotal and it is how I approach the problem and it (like everything) should be looked at as a piece of the puzzle. I hope it helps.

For those of you that don’t know what a heel whip is, let me begin by explaining the “what” of this running movement dysfunction.

A scientific explanation:

a heel whip is an external rotation of the femur at some point between midstance and toe off of a runners stride caused by a forceful unloading of the adductor group which causes excessive rotational forces to be exerted on the hip, knee, ankle and foot.

The not so scientific explanation:

A runner’s foot rotates while it is still on the ground causing it to go from straight or slightly rotated in, to pointing out. This causes a lot of force to be placed on the joints of the lower body (and the runner’s shoe).

Behavioral modification:

When someone comes to me with a heel whip the first thing I do is try to figure out why they have it to begin with (from a behavioral standpoint). This helps to determine if they need to do any behavioral modification which can seriously help in their recovery. Did they ever have a boot/cast/immobilizer on their leg? How much do they run? How much cross-training do they do? Questions like these can help you get to the root of the problem but by its self can do very little to fix the dysfunctional movement.

So lets break down the heel whip in a very simple way.

The primary question:

Why does the leg want to rotate?

Well, there are muscles that are trying to do the job of other muscles that aren’t doing their job. It’s sort of like a dysfunctional workplace. When one guy doesn’t do his job, everyone has to work a little harder to make up for what that one guy isn’t doing. In this case the responsibility falls primarily on the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius.

The function of the gluteus minimus and gluteus medius is to abduct the femur (move the femur to the side). When they don’t do this the femur adducts (moves toward the middle) where the adductors take over.

So what do we do about it?

Sometimes the simplest things in description are the least simple in application. So here it goes. Basically an individual that is experiencing a heel whip needs to strengthen their hip abductors (gluteus medius & minimus) and external rotators (piriformus, Obturator externis & internis, Gemelli superior & inferior, and Quadratus femoris)

Functionally, what does that mean?

I don’t think there is any single failsafe exercise. It is a dynamic relationship between the exercises and the individual. That said, all of my heel whip runners start with the following exercises.
Hip hike:
Standing band external rotations:
Single leg lateral squat:
Fire hydrants
Single leg step down:

Questions? Leave a comment!! I’m really good at answering questions!
blog comments powered by Disqus