Reducing Injury Through Gait Retraining

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A number of recent studies have analyzed the ability to prevent or reduce injury through changing a runner’s gait. Studies have looked at forefoot vs. rearfoot striking, cadence and load; peak hip adduction angle; and cadence alone. The results have indicated how specific changes in each of these areas can help reduce injury risk. In particular, researchers have considered facilitating injury risk reduction and prevention through gait retraining.

A method of altering one’s natural landing, lift off and running pattern, modifying certain components of gait could prove to be the answer to helping chronically injured runners recover. It could also prove beneficial or those who are pervasively plagued with a recurring injury that leaves them on the sidelines instead of on the starting line.

Understanding Gait

Your running gait is the series of movements that incorporate how your foot strikes and leaves the ground. It is split up into five phases, which constitute your gait cycle. Each runner has different characteristics which contribute to each component of their cycle, including when and how the foot strikes the ground, the movement of the foot which lifts you up off the ground, and the time between touching and leaving.

In the latest studies, researchers have been particularly interested in the part of the gait cycle known as loading, and evaluating whether this ground strike occurs in the forefoot or rearfoot. They are also interested in the relationship between gait and cadence, the latter being the number of steps per minute. In particular, researchers hypothesized that converting to a forefoot striking pattern or increasing cadence would allow a decrease in rates of tibial stress fractures, a common running injury, affecting 79 percent of long-distance recreational runners.

What is Gait Retraining?

With these high rates of injury incidence, researchers have proposed that one possibility is gait retraining: changing either the foot strike pattern or cadence to change the gait cycle such that it does not lead to tibial stress fractures.

This was a small study, which while applicable to recreational runners, seeks more to underscore some general themes for the every day runner when it comes to reducing injury and maximizing training:

  • Biomechanical components, such as cadence and foot strike pattern can have an impact on your risk of running injury
  • Recurrent injuries that happen regularly or that don’t go away may be garnered by gait, and gait changes can help reduce long-term injuries
  • Adaptation in forefoot striking can mediate injury risk parameters

And with these findings in mind, you may be asking yourself, “how do I alter my gait, and should I even be worried about it?”

First off, if you are pleased with your running, not getting injured, all whilst progressing successfully through training, don’t fix what isn’t broken. Altering foot strike or cadence because you think it will make you slightly faster or give you that coveted PR, may in fact end up resulting in injury, not preventing it.

If you are suffering from injuries regularly however, try the following tips to analyze whether you should focus on altering your gait or changing you cadence:

  • Have a proper gait analysis done to detect any insufficiencies in your gait which may be contributing to your injury.
  • Be properly fitted for shoes, making sure you are wearing the right type for your gait. Every runner experiences different degrees of pronation – how the foot rolls along the ground from impact to toe-off, and without shoes to properly account for this, injury can ensue.
  • Start with making sure you are running effectively in your current gait pattern by using auditory cues to remind yourself of things such as checking your posture while running, holding your arms to your sides, breathing steadily, etc.

Research aside, most important thing is to recognize that gait retraining isn’t for everyone. It isn’t a quick fix to a series or selection of injuries, and it certainly isn’t something that should be initiated independently. Before attempting any significant gait retraining efforts, work with a professional or consult a coach to make sure your work reduces your injury and doesn’t simply cause additional problems or worsen the underlying issues.

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