Is Running With a Shorter Stride Length Better for Knees?

Knee injury is common for runners.

Knee injury is common for runners.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, running is the fifth most popular type of exercise in the country. But it can be risky -- about 65 percent of runners go to the doctor for running injuries each year. A common reason for treatment? Knee pain. Sports scientists think the right posture and form can help prevent knee injury. And now, thanks to a 2010 study by Dr. Bryan Heiderscheit of the University of Wisconsin, it is known that stride length might play a role.

Stride Length and Stride Rate

First, let's clarify what the terms mean: Stride length is the amount of space between your feet each time you take a step. But since everyone has a different body type and size, it's best to keep track of stride length by counting your stride rate -- that is, the number of times your foot touches the ground ahead per minute. Just count the number of strides you take in one minute of running. The best number to strive for is about 5 percent above your usual.

Benefits

The 2010 study found that increasing your stride rate by just about 5 percent takes some of the strain off your hips and knees. It also helps keep you from braking too hard on one foot, which causes very high impact. Scientists didn't prove definitively that this lowers the likelihood that you'll be injured, only that it brings down the amount of strain you experience. That means you're getting a lower-impact workout. And even if you can't be completely sure that less strain means less injury, it's enough to suggest that the two might be linked. And, it can't hurt to reduce impact.

Risks

But you'll need to be careful here. Count your stride length during the most intense part of your run several times to get an average. Then try and increase that number by 5 percent -- that means more counting. It's easy to count strides with a pedometer, but you can do it yourself too. Here's the thing: You need to be very careful not to go above that 5 percent increase. Why? Raising your stride rate by just 10 percent strains your hips and knees even more than your usual rate, and that may make injury even more likely. To avoid it, you'll have to keep a precise count.

"Barefoot" Running

You don't need to buy a pair of running shoes that mimics barefoot running in order to do this. But these shoes will naturally make your stride rate higher. That's because your usual, longer stride rate will make you hurt when you run. So, if you can't get used to the higher stride rate in your usual shoes, you could give these a try.

 

About the Author

Christina Lee began writing in 2004. Her co-authored essay is included in the edited volume, "Discipline and Punishment in Global Affairs." Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and politics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts in global affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University.

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