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Research for better running

Posted 2:03 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023

Kelsey Redman, left, says the results of her research on impact forces in running has also informed the cues she gives herself as a runner with two half marathon finishes so far.  

Want less impact on joints? UWL PT research shows a simple cue can make a big difference

The type of cues that female runners receive can significantly alter their running pattern and reduce the stress they put on lower body joints such as the knee and hip. 

A study from a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Physical Therapy graduate student found that the simple instruction to “land more softly with each footfall” is a more effective instruction to positively alter running patterns and decrease impact forces on lower body tissues than “bend your knees more as you land.” The study involved female runners only. The results were published in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation in April. 

“I think that it’s important for physical therapists, coaches and trainers to realize the cues they are giving when training runners matter because some are more effective than others,” says UWL Alumna Kelsey Redman, one of the study’s authors. “It is a really simple and easy cue to use in the prevention of running-related injuries or overuse injuries.” 

The difference between the two cues is an external vs. internal focus, explains Redman. “Landing more softly with each football” is an instruction that is not focused on internal body mechanics but instead on the outward effect of the movement.  

Studies related to internal and external focus and impact forces have been done before, and instructions promoting an external focus (EF) tend to be more effective for altering movement patterns in activities such as jumping off of a box. This is the first study to measure the benefits of external focus in running, notes Redman.  

The study found that loading rates and impact peaks were reduced when given the external focus instruction. These two measurements collectively describe the impact force when someone lands. Greater impact forces can lead to more overuse injuries such as stress fractures, shin splints and knee pain.  

The study used an instrumented treadmill with force plates to measure impact forces and cameras with a 3D motion capture system to record reflective markers on clothing and shoes to measure body movements.  

Redman, a recent graduate of UW-La Crosse’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, recently began her career in travel physical therapy this summer with a 13-week contract in Arlington, Texas. She loved the PT program at UW-La Crosse, which prepared her with clinical rotations, multiple physical therapy research projects, and a national conference presentation experience at the American Physical Therapy Combined Sections Meeting (APTA CSM). 

“I think the experiences I had in UWL’s Physical Therapy program are pretty rare. UWL does a good job of integrating us with research experiences,” she says. “I was able to get a job that doesn’t traditionally accept people new to the PT profession. I think that was largely because of my research experience and references from UWL. I would highly recommend this program.”