Jan. 20, 2020

Researchers discover there’s no ‘best way’ to run

No one stride outdoes another for preventing injuries
Many people running
No single gait pattern will predict a running injury Photo courtesy Colourbox

If runners have similar gait patterns, likely they have similar types of injuries, making it easier to predict future injuries. This is what you would think, right? It turns out, there is no running style that will predict an injury each runner is unique and must be assessed on an individual basis according to a new study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.  

“We expected to find common gait patterns that could be linked to common injuries, but that was simply not the case,” says Dr. Reed Ferber, PhD, a professor in the faculties of kinesiology and nursing at the University of Calgary.  Other authors include: Andrew J. Pohl, graduate student in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary, and Susanne Jauhiainen, Sami Äyrämö and Jukka-Pekka Kaupp, from the Faculty of Information Technology at the University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland.

These findings go against traditional biomechanics research.

For three decades now, biomechanics research typically groups people together by their injury type; for example, if a group of runners have a certain type of knee pain, they form a sub group in research, and they are compared to a similar sub-group of healthy runners.

Ferber says, “We artificially form sub-groups, and this is what we wanted to challenge should these groups of people be put together because of their injury type when conducting research?”

The study was the first to look for sub-groups of gait patterns across a wide variety of injuries.

“Since we did not find a connection between running style and injury type, we should consider taking an individualized approach when developing rehabilitation and injury prevention strategies, and when planning future research studies,” says Ferber.

People run in one of five general ways

Researchers set out to find runners who had similar gait patterns using data collected through 3D gait analysis, a motion capture tool that provides runners with a personalized report of their movement to help identify, treat and prevent further injury.

“We did find five typical ways that people run, but in each of those five groups, much to our surprise, there was no correlation between those that were injured or not injured, and no correlation between men and women,” says Ferber. 

The data were collected from 291 runners, both healthy runners and those with common injuries in the knee, foot and ankle, and hip. Researchers chose equal numbers of men and women, and competitive and recreational runners, because these are groups who typically run a little differently from one another. No labels were applied to any of the participants and an ‘unsupervised’ approach was taken to analyze data using an artificial intelligence method called hierarchical cluster analysis.

To make sure the participants were on equal footing, the 3D gait analysis was performed by the same clinician, for a consistent amount of time and using standardized shoes.

“While running styles do fall into one of five categories, no one stride pattern is better than another for protecting you from injury, so you should love the way you run, it’s beautiful,” says Ferber.  

Reed Ferber and Andrew Pohl were funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and Susanne Jauhiainen was funded by the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation.