Gait Retraining and Injury Prevention for the Runner

by Karlee Picard, DPT

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As runners, we know just how easy it can be to injure ourselves through overtraining. Injuries can occur at any moment. However, overuse injuries are among the most common injuries runners may encounter. Many variables can increase risk of injury, including lack of sleep, improper nutrition, mental health and overall fitness level.

Running cadence and step length are two additional variables that may contribute to injuries among runners. Running cadence is the number of steps taken per minute, whereas step length is how long each individual step is. Typically, cadence and step length have an inverse relationship. When we take longer steps, we run at a slower cadence. Running cadence and step length influence our susceptibility to injury as well as our efficiency as runners.

Recent studies suggest having a low cadence (fewer steps per minute) results in greater loading forces on our joints. Increased loading forces can stress the joints and lead to different lower extremity injuries over time.

To decrease this risk, runners can retrain their gait by adjusting running cadence. Increasing running cadence by 5-10% can reduce risk of injury. You might be asking yourself, “How do I know what my current cadence is, and how on earth do I know how to increase it?” There are different ways to monitor running cadence. One of the most common ways is by using a running watch or smart watch. These devices provide real-time feedback for running cadence. You can also use music or a metronome. By knowing your baseline running cadence, you can then determine an appropriate 5-10% increase. This specific increase may look different for everyone. If you don’t like the wearable technologies but enjoy listening to music, you can find a relationship between your steps per minute and the beat of a song. Before you know it, you may have a whole new playlist and improved running mechanics!

Top tips for altering running cadence:

  1. Determine which cadence assessment method is preferred and works the best for you. (A wearable device vs. music vs. a metronome.)
  2. Assess your baseline running cadence.
  3. Gradually increase by 5-10% over a 3 month period, allowing your body to gradually adapt to this new running style.
  4. Reap the benefits of decreased joint loading, and enjoy your runs!

If you experience any pain, discomfort or simply want to develop your running program, please reach out for a consultation.

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Adams D, Pozzi F, Willy RW, Carrol A, Zeni J. ALTERING CADENCE OR VERTICAL OSCILLATION DURING

RUNNING: EFFECTS ON RUNNING RELATED INJURY FACTORS. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2018;13(4):633-642.

Musgjerd T, Anason J, Rutherford D, Kernozek TW. Effect of Increasing Running Cadence on Peak Impact

Force in an Outdoor Environment. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2021;16(4):1076-1083. Published 2021 Aug 1.

doi:10.26603/001c.25166

Wang J, Luo Z, Dai B, Fu W. Effects of 12-week cadence retraining on impact peak, load rates and lower

extremity biomechanics in running. PeerJ. 2020;8:e9813. Published 2020 Aug 24.

doi:10.7717/peerj.9813

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