In this article, I want to share the findings of a recent paper which brings together the two worlds of scientific research, and expert running coaches. This unusual approach helps us greatly in further understanding how running technique can be coached to help athletes recover from injury.
I was fortunate enough to be amongst a group of authors from across the world that completed a ‘mixed-methods’ study on what we now term ‘running retraining’.
Let’s get some terminology out of the way to start with:
- By ‘mixed methods’, we mean a systematic review (the highest level of scientific evidence) combined with the opinions of world experts who meet some pre-determined criteria.
- By ‘running retraining’, we mean any form of feedback designed to change the way that someone runs (ideally for the better!).
The project was lead by Dr. Christian Barton from Melbourne and was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM).
If you want to read the hard science, good for you, please follow this link. The article is open access for a short while, but it won’t be forever. Be quick!
So what did we find?
Existing Research into Running Gait Retraining
I’d say the primary point is to stress that running retraining is still an emerging scientific area: just 6 studies investigated if running retraining produced in a change in pain. The good news, is that 2 very common running injuries were found to be improved significantly by running retraining:
For Runner’s Knee, retraining should focus on reducing what is known as hip adduction, often referred to as a crossover gait or medial collapse. To do this, we found that increasing step rate (running cadence) or using visual/verbal cues was most effective.
For Anterior Compartment Syndrome, the strongest evidence identified suggested that switching to a forefoot strike pattern is best for reducing pain.
However, we would like to exercise caution in this regard, remembering that running load cannot disappear, it simply gets moved around the body as we adopt a new technique, so please consider seeking the advice of a running professional before you attempt this.
So what did the experts suggest?
As always, opinion will allow for much more data than hard science. Despite this, the experts interviewed suggest that running retraining has a role in the management of iliotibial band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome, hamstring or gluteal tendinopathy and running related calf pain.
As many of the experts interviewed are active researchers, lots of these hypotheses (ideas) are currently being tested.
A strong theme of interest, however, was that approaches often need individualising for specific injuries and runners.
What that means for the running community, is that at present, trying to change your running technique to help an injury is best done so under the guidance of an excellent therapist or coach.
Take Home Message
The final point I would make is that running retraining, or changing running technique, is just one of many tools to apply when managing injured runners.
For some athletes and/or injuries, it may be the most important tool. For others, exercise-based rehabilitation may be more important.
In reality, a good combination of both approaches is probably best.
We can be guilty of throwing the baby out with the bathwater when a new approach comes along, so please do not forget that good old exercise has a significant role to play in both injured and uninjured runners.
As always, thanks for reading, and if you have any burning questions, then please post them in the comments below.