ANKLE BIOMECHANICS AND AGE: Competitor.com ran an article about an 89 year old woman, Ellen Lem, who completed her first 5k at Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend on September 2 and became one of the oldest persons to do so. What’s the secret to her success as an older runner? It might be her ankles! A research paper was recently published that look at the running biomechanics of runners by decades: 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s.
“The Relationship Between Age and Running Biomechanics” by Paul Devita and colleagues appeared in the journal, Medicine & Science In Sports and Exercise. “The purpose of this study” they stated, “was to investigate the age-related adaptations in the biomechanics of running throughout the age range of 18–60 yr.” They felt the results could have a significant impact on the development of “training programs and performance equipment” that are specifically designed to reduce injuries in aging runners (over 45 years).
There were 59 males and 51 females enrolled in the study, ranging in age from 23-59 years, who had been injury free for 6 months and whose current training was not affected by a previous injury. Participants were grouped by age: 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, and 50-60 years. Runners were recruited through newspaper, Internet, and local running stores ads. They had no chronic diseases or orthopedic conditions. Body mass index (BMI) was not significantly different between the age groups (mean 23.4), weekly mileage was not correlated with age (mean ~33 miles/week), and experience increased with age (mean ~11.3 years). They ran at their own individual training pace on a special platform while “motion and force data were captured“ by various scientific instruments (like cameras, photoelectric timer) and analyzed by software.
Their results and conclusions: “Overall, our data show that running biomechanics decline linearly” (which means that the measurements followed a straight line downward from younger to older ages). “Reductions in the basic running characteristics of stride length and velocity between the ages of 23 and 59 years are DUE PRIMARILY to reduced ANKLE moment and power production during the stance phase but NOT reduced knee or hip function.’" The scientists admit that it is yet to be determined whether these reduction were due to actual physical limitations or the conscious decision of runners to change ankle mechanics.
Reduced ankle function may be due to a general decrease in muscle strength and power, reduced elasticity in the Achilles tendon, plantar flexion weakness, or other causes, possibly related to the amount of running performed over the lifetime of the older runner.
WHAT SHOULD WE TAKE FROM THIS STUDY?
The function of our ankles (and attached feet) might be as important or even more important to our running health than the bigger joints that tend to receive more of our attention, the knees and hips. It may be that our ‘running age’ is more closely related to our ankle ‘age’ than hip or knee age. It’s not too late to work on strength, mobility, and flexibility for the ankles and feet if you hope to keep running beyond age 45 when overuse injuries are known to increase.
To help you, below is a link to “GMB Fix Your Feet” by Jarto, a website page that provides information and routines to improve foot and ankle health. The physical therapist first introduces the basic anatomy and movements in these structures, then discusses the importance of working on this area, and lastly how to incorporate the demonstrated exercises (foot mobility and strength, calf stretches, self massage) in a training routine.
Many can be performed watching TV or listening to music, in the morning, evening, or during work breaks. I used them (different physical therapist but she prescribed same moves) to recover from a foot injury, over 5 months.
By the way, Mrs. Lem is planning to run the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend again, but next year will register for the 10K!
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Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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