Eric's classmates used to laugh when he ran, calling him a "slowpoke." But, that was before his parents sought medical advice. Now, Eric runs like other healthy boys.
Many young children appear awkward and slow as they run. Criticized for poor running form -- which may be caused by lack of coordination, muscle imbalances or structural abnormalities -- children often become extremely self-conscious and choose to run even more slowly.
Children who look awkward when running should be videotaped while in the act. The video can be reviewed in slow motion to help isolate any biomechanical defects.
For example, leaning forward during running is often caused by weak back muscles. The usual treatment to strengthen the back muscles is exercise, such as pulling on a rowing machine.
Pointing toes outward is often caused by weak lower leg muscles. It is corrected by strengthening the shin muscles with exercises such as the "bucket-handle" exercise:
Wrap a towel around a bucket handle. Sit on a table that is high enough for your legs to dangle without reaching the floor. Place the handle over the front of your shoe and slowly raise and lower the foot by bending your ankle. Do three sets of 10 raises, resting between sets. Start with an empty bucket; add water to make it heavier as you get stronger.
Leaning back on the heels after the foot is planted on the ground can be caused by weak calf muscles and an excessive rolling-in motion of the feet. Treatment to strengthen the calf muscles often includes exercises such as toe raises (while holding a heavy weight in your hands) and practices such as wearing special inserts in the shoes.
Running with the shoulders held up toward the ears is usually due to weak shoulder muscles. Correction involves shoulder shrugging while holding heavy hand weights. A low knee-lift during running is often caused by weak quadriceps muscles in the front of the upper leg. It is corrected by pedaling a stationary bicycle or running up hills, two activities which strengthen the quads.
Q: My health-conscious grandson has granola every day for breakfast. Is it as healthy as he thinks?
A: Granola has enjoyed an undeserved reputation as a special health food. Of all breakfast cereals, it usually contains the most fat.
Granola is a mixture of processed grains, such as rolled oats, dried fruits, nuts, seeds and sweeteners. The honey or raw or brown sugar in many granolas offer no health advantage over refined white sugar. Natural rolled oats normally taste like cardboard, so they often are fried in fat to make them taste better. As a result, granolas often contain up to 40 percent fat, compared to almost zero for most other cereals.
Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.