What is the best way to reduce loading forces in runners?
In our previous blog posts we have discussed the variety of interventions available to reduce the high injury rates seen among both novice and experienced runners. Many of these interventions are designed to reduce the loading forces across the lower body at foot strike and push off. In our Boulder Physical Therapy practice we commonly utilize strength training, patient education, and running gait retraining. No consensus has been reached on the an ideal running form for all individuals, but each runner can improve their gait efficiency and injury risk through analysis and form correction. We often find simple cues such as "land softer" are most effective at improving a runner's gait. With runners, like most athletes, complex and multiple cues only lead to "paralysis by analysis". Most often these cues are designed to improve step frequency (cadence) or vertical oscillation. A new study provides insight into which cue may be most effective.
Adams and colleagues analyzed healthy runners under 3 running conditions: self selected running gait, cuing to increase step frequency, and cuing to reduce vertical oscillation (International J Sports PT. 2018). Data on vertical loading, ground reaction forces, and braking impulse during each condition were analyzed in a biomechanics lab. Although both the vertical oscillation and step frequency groups demonstrated improved loading measurements compared to the baseline group greater improvements were seen among the runners aiming to reduce their vertical oscillations.
These findings are consistent with prior research indicating runners with high vertical oscillation rates (picture greater up and down movements with each stride) not only are more inefficient but also have greater rates of lower body loading and injury risk.