FALL SHOE SEASON WILL SOON ARRIVE . An article, “How Running Surfaces and Speed Influence Injury Risk” by Ian McMahan for Competitor.com discusses new insights by science into running injury, something shoe designers and manufactures hope to help runners avoid.
“Despite innovations in shoe cushioning, training and sports science, the rate of running injuries hasn’t budged since shoes were being made in waffle irons. One of the reasons for this unchanging rate is likely that each runner is their own laboratory, with a specific set of injury do’s and don’ts that depend on gender, genetics and a whole host of other factors. “
Running surface is one factor to be considered in injury prevention. Softer surfaces like trails, sand, or treadmills, have long been thought to be easier on the joints. According to the article, the body compensates and adjusts for the firmness of the running surface, based on past experience and physiological ‘data’ derived from previous runs. In other words, on softer surfaces the leg muscles stiffen more and on harder surfaces the muscles stiffen less, such that the “over all impact on the leg virtually remains the same whether running on trails, a beach, or concrete”. This process by which the brain and body act to maintain the stiffness of the surface/leg/shoe unit is termed “muscle tuning”, the article explains.
Runners may ask, what does this mean for injury prevention? The answer is that changing up running surfaces during training may help avoid injury. “Just like a runner would try runs of different intensities—tempo and interval training for instance—my advice is to incorporate a little bit of all the different surfaces into training,” says Dr. Brian Heiderscheit, Director of the University of Wisconsin’s Runners’ Clinic, who was quoted in the piece.
An article in the British Journal of Sports medicine by BM Nigg and colleagues from the University of Calgary in Alberta Canada examines the role of the shoe in this surface/leg/shoe unit. In spite of dramatic changes in shoe construction over the past 100 years, the authors say, footwear selection has not influenced the FREQUENCIES of running injuries. They contend there is a “lack of conclusive evidence” that two variables, impact characteristics and ankle pronation/eversion, are the “prime predictors of running injuries”. The article abstract says that “two new paradigms are suggested to elucidate the association between footwear and injury impact and ankle pronation: ‘the preferred movement path’ and the ‘comfort filter’. These researchers propose that each runner selects a comfortable footwear product using their own ‘comfort filter’ that allows them to remain in the ‘preferred movement path”.
The 'comfort filter' paradigm is this: runners already select a shoe that is most comfortable FOR THEM, using a personal, built-in "comfort filter'. This selection has the effect of reducing injury risk and contributing to performance. It's "not that footwear could have an influence on running injuries. On the contrary, footwear does appear to influence the frequency of injuries since we already select the most comfortable shoe and avoid uncomfortable and potentially harmful footwear", they say.
The ‘preferred movement’ paradigm is this: the skeleton of an individual runner attempts to stay in the same movement path, that person’s ‘preferred movement path’. Muscle activity ensures that the skeleton stays in this path. A ‘good’ running shoe allows the skeleton to move in the ‘preferred movement path’ by demanding less muscle activity than a ‘bad’ running shoe.
The authors admit that this new way of thinking about shoe selection and running injury doesn’t solve the problem of injury. It clears the way for considering the issues differently, such that measures to alter shoe cushioning and foot pronation are not the primary injury prevention strategies.
These are complex issues and I cannot say I comprehend all that is presented in this reported research. Expert trainers and coaches have told us that we must listen to our bodies, and investigate and ‘fix’ situations in which running is not comfortable. We must work to maintain and build strength in ALL muscles involved in running, not just the big groups that move us forward, but also in the smaller muscles that balance and stabilize that forward movement.
Someone asked me if research has identified which runners tend to become injured and eventually give up running. I have NOT found that literature! My experience is that runners with discomfort tend to keep running, even after short trial periods of rest do not change the situation. We run with discomfort.
However, without correction of the underlying problem discomfort may progress to true pain but still the runner tends not to give up. Instead, the continued pain causes dysfunctional running, which leads to more and different pain in other areas. Finally, when the total burden of pain increases to the point of that there is lack of function (we can no longer run) only then do we stop and seek medical care.
Therapy in some cases might only be designed to return function to the level of the non-running population: to walk without pain. To a sidelined runner this should be an unacceptable solution. The remedy is to persevere in seeking, far and wide if necessary, a specific diagnosis of the weakness/imbalance/problem that initially adversely affected running and caused discomfort and pain and a prescription to fix it. Even if recovery work requires months of effort, If the The key to success is following the therapy prescription once given, for as long as needed, realizing a problem tendency has been identified that will require persistent work to prevent relapses. I’ve gone through several injury ‘cycles’ and finally, hopefully, learned the lesson of prevention. It’s worth it!
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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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