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Research finds runners wired for sound

Media release

Curtin University researchers have used sound to examine the impact different running styles have on the body, with findings having potential implications on performance and types of injuries.

Project supervisor Dr Leo Ng, from Curtin’s School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, said researchers used microphones to measure the sound of feet contacting the ground, 3D motion analysis to assess running technique and force plates to measure impact on joints.

“Twenty-six runners were asked to run ‘normally’ while we measured the loudness of the sound of their feet hitting the ground. Participants were then asked to run ‘quietly’ to see whether this impacted the forces going into the joint,” Dr Ng said.

“We expected the results to show that when sound reduced, the force or pressure on the ankle and hips also reduced – what we didn’t expect was for more than three-quarters of people to change their running style to make this happen and the implications this had.

“Participants changed their running technique from a rear foot strike to a forefoot strike – that is, they landed on the ball of their foot first as opposed to landing on their heel first.”

Dr Ng said while a runner’s impact absorption time was slower when they were running quietly, there was no overall link between the sound of running and impact absorption rate.

“A fast impact absorption has been linked to injuries such as shin splints so this research suggests that by landing quietly, runners may be able to reduce their risk of getting shin splints,” Dr Ng said.

Dr Ng said elite long distance and recreational runners typically ran using a rear-foot strike but a forefoot strike was more common at faster speeds.

“Using a rear-foot and forefoot strike technique changes the loads experienced by your joints and muscles when running which can pre-dispose you to certain types of injuries,” Dr Ng said.

“Forefoot strike runners are at greater risk of Achilles-type injuries while rear-foot runners are more likely to get knee pain.”

“For this reason, coaches might tell a runner to occasionally alter their technique to offload certain joints which may minimise their risk of certain injuries.”

The paper, titled Running quietly reduces ground reaction force and vertical loading rate and alters foot strike technique, was published in the Journal of Sports Sciences and can be accessed here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2016.1227466.