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Runners Education: Can Changes in Step Rate Reduce Pain?

This is another installation in a series of runners education articles written by UW Health Sports Medicine staff.

 

Approximately 56 percent of recreational runners and as high as 90 percent of runners training for marathons will sustain a running-related injury.6 Approximately 50 percent of all running-related injuries are knee injuries, with nearly half of those involving the patellofemoral (knee cap) joint.5

 

While several injury risk factors have been suggested, the inability of the lower-extremity joints (hips, knees, ankles and joints in the feet) to withstand repeated impacts is often the focus of injury prevention strategies.2,4

 

Step Rates

 

Several strategies have been proposed to reduce lower-extremity joint loads, including the use of minimalist footwear and alterations in running form. A common result of these strategies is an increased step rate - the time from foot contact to foot contact. While maintaining the same speed, astep rate increase of 10 percent or greater reduces the load on the body during impact. As a result, the lower-extremity joints do not have to absorb as much of the load, with the most significant reduction observed at the knee.1

 

The UW Health Sports Medicine Runners Clinic has demonstrated that a step rate increase of 5 percent resulted in a reduced load of approximately 20 percent and a step rate increase of 10 percent resulted in 34 percent less load.3 A reduction in the loading demands placed on the hips was also observed when step rate was increased.

 

Form Change May Reduce Injuries

 

This simple change in running form may prove beneficial in the prevention and treatment of running injuries involving these joints and associated tissues. Using a metronome, injured runners can be taught to increase their step rate while maintaining the same speed. The associated reduction in loading enables injured runners to continue running without aggravating symptoms while receiving care for their injuries. Running with an increased step rate also helps promote a safe return to running following recovery from an injury.


References

 

  1. Derrick TR, Hamill J, Caldwell GE. Energy absorption of impacts during running at various stride lengths. Med.Sci.Sports Exerc. 1998;30:128.
  2. Fredericson M, Weir A. Practical management of iliotibial band friction syndrome in runners. Clin J Sport Med. 2006;16:261-268.
  3. Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Wille CM, Ryan MB. Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43:296-302.
  4. Snyder KR, Earl JE, O'Connor KM, Ebersole KT. Resistance training is accompanied by increases in hip strength and changes in lower extremity biomechanics during running. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2009;24:26-34.
  5. Taunton JE, Ryan MB, Clement DB, McKenzie DC, Lloyd-Smith DR, Zumbo BD. A retrospective case-control analysis of 2002 running injuries. Br J Sports Med. 2002;36:95-101.
  6. van Gent RN, Siem D, van Middelkoop M, van Os AG, Bierma-Zeinstra SM, Koes BW. Incidence and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2007;41:469-480; discussion 480.