Developing Techniques to Reduce Running Injuries

The following article was written by Richard Souza, Ph.D., P.T., Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science at UCSF, Research Director at the UCSF Human Performance Center.

Runners come in many forms: men and women, young people and senior citizens and those who run for pleasure, for competition or to stay healthy.  Unfortunately, something a majority of runners have in common: injuries. Approximately 56 percent of recreational runners and up to 90 percent of marathon runners are injured each year—half of those injuries involve the knee.

New research from the UCSF Human Performance Center suggests that high injury rates among runners come, in part, from specific running technique. It has been shown that running with lighter, quicker steps may reduce a runners’ potential for certain injuries. In utilizing this running strategy, runners’ strides are shortened, with the right foot touching the ground 90+ times per minute.  By increasing the number of steps you take while running, you intuitively decrease the stride length, which greatly reduces the impact forces generated.

At UCSF’s Human Performance Center, we are able to quantify in 3-D how runners move with specialized cameras and reflective markers. Then, we reconstruct a runner’s skeleton for analysis. By determining that a certain injury is associated with a certain pattern, we can develop interventions targeted to counteract faulty movement patterns.

Through these technologies, we can analyze those runners who take fewer, larger strides and those who take extra, shorter strides. We can clearly evaluate the loading profile through imbedded force plates within the laboratory floor. Those that “over-stride” generate a prominent “impact peak”, a characteristic that is known to be related to injuries such as stress fractures. Recent research has shown that runners can be trained to lessen or even eliminate this impact peak through gait retraining and increasing the number of steps taken during running. The elimination of this impact peak may reduce injury risk for runners.


For more information on the UCSF Human Performance Center, please see here.