Summer is in full swing – for a runner this means the height of training season is fast approaching. Many runners are stepping it up and increasing their mileage for late summer races or for upcoming fall marathons. This is the good news. The bad news is that over 50% of recreational runners and up to 90% of runners training for a marathon will sustain a running related injury this year. It’s not all bad though – runners have the ability to identify and correct faulty running form in order to embark on a healthy marathon season this fall.
Overstriding is a faulty running mechanic that deserves our attention. You may not have given much thought to your running stride before, but the length of your stride is a potential power player in your health as a runner. Stride length and step rate are important pieces in both injury recovery and prevention. Like the name says, overstriding simply means that a runner exhibits a long stride length, and therefore takes fewer steps per minute for any given distance. This may sound efficient, but overstriding has been linked to a variety of running injuries including patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis and tibial stress fractures. These injuries often result from excessive impact forces at the hip, knee and ankle joints, which accompany overstriding.
Many studies have linked an increased step rate to a considerable reduction in running-related injuries. Increasing the number of steps you take with running is simple, even for the most habit-oriented runners. There is no magic number for step rate – it simply has to be higher than your originally preferred step rate. Subtle increases in step rate as little as 5-10% have been shown to reduce joint compressive forces and decrease risk of injury. This alteration in running mechanics has proven to be just as, if not more important than a strengthening rehabilitation program. Strength is not the sole indicator of recovery; when returning to running after an injury, it is paramount that rehabilitation principles carry over to your daily runs.
So how can you change your stride? If you have been a runner for 20+ years, or even 5 years, you are most likely set in your ways. It can feel daunting to change it up. But remember, increases as little as 5% have been shown to make a difference! Your Physical Therapist at Premier Physical Therapy can help you determine step rate with only a video camera and a treadmill. Your PT will have you run on the treadmill at your preferred speed for 5 minutes while he or she counts the number of right foot strikes over a 30 second period and multiplies by 4 to determine steps per minute. This will provide you with a baseline rate from which to increase 5-10%.
If it seems overwhelming to implement a new running pattern throughout the entire course of your run, you may start by adding incremental time periods at the new step rate. There are also apps that will aid in maintaining step rate, freeing you from the burden of counting the number of steps you take each minute. Metronome apps like Jog Tunes will find music according to beats per minute to match your new step rate. Other metronome resources include Pro Metronome, BestMetronome.com, and RunningPlaylist.net.
Ask your Physical Therapist at Premier Physical Therapy about ways to combat overstriding and start taking more steps to become a better runner!
Jennifer Jurewicz, PT, DPT
Lily Mercer, SPT
Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, et al. Effects of Step Rate Manipulation on Joint Mechanics during Running. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2011;43(2):296-302.
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Taunton JE. A retrospective case-control analysis of 2002 running injuries. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2002;36(2):95-101
van Gent RN, Siem D, van Middelkoop M, van Os AG, Bierma-Zeinstra SM, Koes BW.. Incidence and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2007;41:469-480
Willy RW, Buchenic L, Rogacki K, et al. The effects of a gait retraining program using mobile biofeedback in high risk runners. Proceedings of the 3rd International Patellofemoral Pain Retreat 2013read more