Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

Age and Running Biomechanics

January 4, 2016

Last year an estimated 30 million people ran at least 50 days for exercise and health benefits (Running USA).    The fastest growing segment of the running community includes older adults who gain impressive cardiovascular, muscle, bone, and mental health benefits compared to their sedentary peers.   In addition, contrary to popular but incorrect old wives tales about running and arthritis these active older adults experience less pain than their sedentary peers (Bruce et al. 2005).  Our previous posts on the older adult running community detailed specific cardiovascular and gait changes which take place due to aging.   These losses in flexibility, strength and balance increase the already high rates of overuse injuries among runners.  A better understanding of running gait changes through the life cycle may help us prevent future injuries among this population of runners. 

A recent study in the Journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise studied the running gaits of 110 experienced runners between the ages of 18-60  (DeVita et al. 2016).  Consistent with the previous literature the authors noted each age group older than 18 demonstrated a progressive loss of running velocity.  These changes were largely due to decreased stride length vs. stride frequency compared to the younger participants.  Further, older runners ran with decreased ankle power which translated into decreased horizontal and vertical forces at push off.  The presence of ankle changes with age, but the absence of hip or knee changes, indicates the importance of the ankle for both energy absorption and propulsion during running.