Improving Running Mechanics to Avoid Overuse Injury

Spring is finally here and the nicer weather is nearly upon us. With longer and warmer days we are starting to see more and more folks outdoors exercising. Runners in particular tend to ramp up their training during this time in preparation for the spring and summer running season. One event we are looking forward to is the annual Get LBI Running 5k which is slated for Saturday May 16th.

In a given 12-month period 50% to 75% of runners sustain an injury. Due to the repetitive loading involved with running, even mild abnormal movement patterns can accumulate over time and result in overuse injuries. Some of the more common overuse injuries that runners sustain include patellofemoral pain, IT band syndrome, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, compartment syndrome, and medial tibial stress syndrome (commonly called “shin splints”). Running mechanics play a significant role in running related injuries. Physical therapists are experts in examining and correcting abnormal movement patterns and this inlcudes running mechanics.

Research shows that training by qualified experts can improve running mechanics and potentially decrease the risk of injury. For example, runners undergoing cadence retraining showed improved running mechanics after 6 weeks of training. One case study, showed that step rate retraining combined with hip strengthening exercise resulted in improved running mechanics and reduced pain for a runner with iliotibial band syndrome. In controlled laboratory settings, computer and video analysis can show which features of running should be corrected. This could include excessive vertical oscillation, over-striding, excessive trunk lean, and excessive arm rotation. In clinical settings, real time feedback using a treadmill, mirror, and verbal cues by a physical therapist have been shown to improve running mechanics. One study showed that this type of running retraining also carried over to improved movement patterns with squatting and stair descent even though no additional movement-specific training was undertaken.

Runners with a history of overuse injuries and those currently experiencing pain may benefit from a running analysis by a physical therapist. Retraining running patterns does not require high tech equipment or multiple sessions with a physical therapist. Research shows that running mechanics can be improved with a treadmill, mirror, verbal cues from a physical therapist, and quite a bit of deliberate practice on the part of the runner.