Running is one of the most common sports that attracts a lot of common injuries. It is the best full-body aerobic exercise known to mankind, great for calories, and working multiple muscle groups.
Most of the common running injuries are; shin splints, a heel spur, or a stress fracture. The good thing is that a lot of research has been carried out and now they are improved ways to run to avoid injuries.
Harvard Medical School carried out new research that showed that runners who land lightly on their feet while running are more likely to avoid injuries than runners who land harder with each step.
This notion seems more like common sense but the study out of Harvard actually examined the forces at play as you run and how they can lead to injuries.
Adding a wrinkle to the study, researchers looked at foot strike data from runners who had never been injured before, a group that researchers often understudy in the scientific literature.
Foot strike force
From their study, researchers examined the relationship between running mechanics and impact load, they did this by recruiting 249 female recreational runners that met a certain standard.
They classified themselves as recreational runners who ran at least 20 miles a week and they all had heel strike patterns which researchers noted left them more susceptible to injury because their style results in a stronger impact force with each step.
Participants were asked to run on a specialized track that could measure their foot-strike force and they were also asked to observe any injuries they suffered.
Runners ran a minimum of 20 miles a week and they tracked for a period of two years.
At the end of two years, 103 runners had reported injuries that required them to seek medical attention, and 21 runners reported no injuries at all.
The study did not mention what happened to the other 125 runners, probably they dropped out of the studies and did not achieve their running goals at some point during the study.
Researchers noticed that out of the 21 people who had never suffered an injury and remained injury-free during the study, they were all runners that landed very lightly on their heels, suggesting that landing impact is an important factor in injury development.
How to run light on your feet
Runners who are heel strikers are more prone to injuries because heel striking leads to a higher impact load on the foot, leg, and body than landing near the front or middle of the foot.
The department of Human evolutionary Biology at Harvard University in 2012 conducted research and published it in Medicine and Science sport and exercise.
In the research, 52 runners, 36 of whom primarily used a rearfoot strike and 16 of whom primarily used a forefoot strike.
They found out that approximately 74 percent of runners experienced a moderate or severe injury each year while those who habitually rearfoot strike had approximately twice the rate of repetitive stress injuries than individuals who habitually forefoot strike.
A conclusion was then made that runners who habitually rearfoot strike have significantly higher rates of repetitive stress injury than those who mostly forefoot strike.
The Harvard professor who led the study, Dr. Irene Davis said the findings also suggest that thinking about “a soft landing” can help. In addition, she provided additional tips on how to run to avoid injury:
Experiment with landing closer to the midfoot if you are a heel striker. Most runners naturally land more lightly when they don’t lead with the heel.
“Imagine you’re running on eggshells or attempting to run on water”. Try to remain light on your feet.
Slightly increase cadence: The number of steps you take per minute. This seems to reduce pounding from each stride.
A colleague of Davis, Professor Daniel E. Lieberman also provided few tips on how to run properly as well;
Don’t overstride, it places a big impact and shock wave that travels up your body. It also causes a deceleration of the body. So you have to work harder to keep your stride.
Increase your stride rate: A high stride rate keeps your stride short and your bounce springy.
Do not focus on forefoot striking too much because if you do, you may overstride and cause more stress. Conversely, as we’ve noted, heel striking is bad so focus on a flat foot and midfoot strike. A very pronounced forefront or rear foot is bad.
Maintaining an upright position is important. If you lean forward, it puts big angular torque on your upper body causing your body to want to fall forward, putting more stress on your lower body.
Running technique is a huge factor to consider as a runner if you are trying to avoid a lot of injuries.
From the research carried out, heel strikers are more prone to acquiring injuries.
Many studies have been able to prove that rear foot strikers put more impact and strain on their limbs than midfoot or forefoot strikers.
It is therefore important to adopt the best running technique by running light on your feet to prevent most running injuries from occurring.