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Medical School Study Sheds Light on Running Injuries

By Ahilya Khadka, Contributing Writer

A recent Harvard Medical School study shed light on how to avoid injuries while running, showing that people who land lightly on their feet are less likely to injure themselves.

The study, which was led by Irene S. Davis, a visiting professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, aimed to determine whether runners who land on their feet more heavily are at greater risk for developing medically diagnosed injuries.

The study, which Davis called “innovative,” investigated runners who had never been injured before, a group that has always been understudied in scientific literature, she said.

“We can learn as much from people who never get injured as we can from people who do. That way we can see what the uninjured are doing right,” said Davis, who also serves as the director of the Spaulding National Running Center, a Harvard-affiliated research and treatment facility for running related injuries.

In order to examine the relationship between mechanics and impact load, the study recruited 249 female recreational runners who struck the ground with their heels while running. Landing on heels poses a greater risk of injury than landing on middle or front of the foot, because it results in a stronger impact force, according to the authors.

The participants ran a minimum of 20 miles a week and reported to a biomechanic lab where they recorded their past injuries and ran on a track that could detect the impact force of their foot strike. The researchers tracked the mileage and any running related injury of the runners monthly through a web-based, database programme for two years.

While 103 runners reported injuries that required them to seek medical attention, 21 runners reported of no injuries whatsoever, the study found. The researchers observed that the runners who reported to have never been injured landed very lightly even though they landed on their heels, suggesting that the impact of the landing is an important factor for injuries.

Although the participants of the study were all women, Davis said that preliminary data suggests there are no differences in foot strike impacts between men and women. Davis added that she is currently conducting another study that investigates the differences in foot strike impacts between men and women.

As spring arrives in Cambridge and people take to the streets in their running shoes, they should remember that being light on their feet can help prevent injuries, Davis said.

“People should really try to listen to their foot strikes and try to make them as soft as possible,” Davis said. “Sound is correlated to force, so if you’re hitting really hard it’s going to be loud and that’s a nice way to know when to reduce those impacts.”

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