Lighten Your Step to Help Prevent Running Injuries

A sprained ankle or a pulled muscle right before marathon season is every runner’s worst nightmare. But research suggests these horrors could be preventable: a study found that runners who've never suffered a running-related injury have lower vertical impact loading (one aspect of the force exerted when feet hit the ground). The study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and was reported on by the New York Times. It included 249 female runners—144 of whom had experienced at least one previous running-related injury. At the start of the study, the runners underwent a gait analysis to analyze the vertical forces on their feet while running. The runners then logged their mileage and any running-related injuries in an online database every month for two years. Over the two years, 103 participants sought medical attention for running-related injuries, and 21 participants reported not experiencing a running-related injury. Researchers compared the runner’s vertical force analyses to their running-related injury rates and found that, on average, the vertical forces against the foot were relatively lower in participants who hadn't experienced a running injury compared with those who had.

So, what can you do to soften the blow? While most runners hit the ground heel first, try hitting the ground mid-foot first—this is thought to help cushion and slow vertical impact forces. Increasing cadence, or the number of steps you take per minute, also appears to help prevent dramatic increases in vertical forces. Another trick is to imagine you’re running on eggshells or striding over a pond to change the way your foot hits the ground and soften the effects of injurious forces.

Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine

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