Running in reverse takes pressure off knees

CARDIFF U. (UK) — Running backwards generally puts less pressure on your knee joints, say scientists.

Because running backwards isn’t a very practical solution, the team hopes to build on their findings by suggesting forward running styles that could enable people with anterior knee pain to stay active.

Working with the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, researchers collected and analyzed data relating to the compressive forces acting on the knee joint from 20 people who were taught techniques to run forwards and backwards.

The findings appear in the Journal of Biomechanics and are reviewed in Lower Extremity Review.

In 85 percent of the participants, researchers found that the compressive forces behind the kneecap are increased in forward running compared to running backwards, report the researchers, from the Arthritis Research UK Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre, based at Cardiff University’s School of Healthcare Studies.

Participants were recruited and taught to run at a speed of 2.8 to 3.4 meters per second. Speeds when running forwards and backwards were virtually identical for all participants.

The researchers collected data by placing reflective markers on the participants’ legs, video recording the session with infrared cameras, and then assessing the gait using computer software. The force exerted when the foot hits the ground was measured using force plates under the floor.

Discussing the findings, Nick Barton, a physiotherapist in Cardiff and Vale University Health Board says: “Many people including runners experience problems with their knees. We showed that compressive forces behind the kneecap were reduced in the majority of cases and this was independent of running speed.

“It is therefore possible that running backwards, as part of a specific rehabilitation program prescribed by a physiotherapist, may help in returning patients back to a good level of activity.”

People with runner’s knee experience soreness, discomfort, or even a grating sensation in their knee when there is increased pressure on the joint. This often stops them from exercising normally.

Paulien Roos, of the Arthritis Research UK Biomechanics and Bioengineering Centre and School of Healthcare Studies adds: “Although backward running may not be a practical solution, this study provided important insights on how loading of the knee joint can be reduced in running.

“The participants in our study landed on their heels during forward running, but always landed on their forefoot when they ran backwards. The initial foot contact was important in defining the compressive forces in the knee and suggests there is an opportunity to investigate various running styles for therapeutic application.”

Commenting on the study, Arthritis Research UK’s medical director, Professor Alan Silman, says: “We fund research to help keep people active. This study provides us with a better idea of which running styles reduce forces on the knee to help prevent injuries such as runners’ knee.

“It’s important people use the proper technique to exercise safely but we do not recommend people start running backwards due to the potential trip hazards. If you are unsure about your running technique, a qualified sports coach, fitness instructor, or member of gym staff can give you advice.”

Source: Cardiff University

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  1. Mike

    I can’t believe you did not say anything about using “barefoot running shoes”. The shoes change you from a heel striker to a balls of your foot striker. You want to know how nature “taught” us to run? Just take your shoes off, go to a football pitch and run 100 meters back and a forth a few times or take a few laps barefoot around the track. You will never be a heel striker again. Why? If you try running barefoot as a heel striker, you will immediately feel the pain run up your leg and into your lower back? You cannot sustain it. The natural way to run is to land on the front balls of your feet first. We are the product of a 100K years or so of evolution. Nike, Reebok, ASICs, etc. tried to defy evolution and make us think we could be successful heel strikers. All that cushioning does not change the fundamental laws of physics and how our bodies evolved.

    Lastly, I would argue that the qualified sports coach, fitness instructor and or gym member staff is totally unqualified to speak on the dynamics of running….after all, those are the folsk that got us into this mess in the first place by buying into Nike’s philosophy.

  2. Mike

    …and lastly, after making the switch to barefoot shoes, I have been running “knee” pain free for the last 12 months or so. I am 57 years old and was a heel striker since I started running at the age of 23. I have run 4 marathons over the years, untold number of half marathons plus lots of shorter distance races. About 3 or 4 years or so ago I started getting the classic runners knee. The pain was so excruciating I had to stop running and resort do run walks. Took time off, tried all sorts of stretches but to no avail. Then, I made the switch about 18 months or so ago to barefoot shoes. I had to relearn how to run and re-strengthen/re-educate my calf muscles to the natural style. I no longer strike with my heel. I was very patient and did not over do it. I also cross train (and continue to cross train) on the elliptical.

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