Runners can outpace the pains

Local | Riley Chan Mar 14, 2018
Riley Chan

Distance runners can reduce the risk of injury by 62 percent by switching their foot-strike patterns, a study finds. What is needed are softer landings and not on heels alone.

These are the results of a study by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University's Department of Rehabilitation.

A research team compared results over 12 months of 320 amateur runners aged from 18 to 50 who had less than two years of running experience. They were divided into experimental and control groups.

The experimental group of 166 were given eight training sessions in two weeks. They were shown the landing force of a step when running on a treadmill and reminded to run with softer foot strikes.

The results, which included landing force, vertical average loading rate and vertical instantaneous loading rate, was seen to lessen body-weight effects quite dramatically depending on how fast someone runs.

In the year following training the soft-stride runners reported 28 injuries while the runners in the control group had 61.

Those findings underlined the fact that softer foot strikes reduce the risk of injury.

Poly associate professor Roy Cheung Tsz-hei, who led the study, said most runners are unaware of their gait when running, thus increasing the risk of injuries.

According to him, from around 37 to 79 percent of runners injure themselves every year. The most common injuries include painful conditions around knees and heels.

"It's very encouraging a two-week training session can reduce the risk by 62 percent," he said.

But an unexpected outcome was that some runners who underwent the training were more prone to injuries such as achilles tendinitis and calf strains while the control runners did not have such problems.

Cheung explained that some of the trained runners attempted to soften foot strikes by landing on the forefoot, which increases the pressure on the lower legs. "Runners should land on the mid-foot, take smaller steps and lean the body forward slightly to prevent injury," he said.

The team is now looking to developing a wearable sensor to help street runners adjust foot strikes.

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February 2019