Increasing Cadence and Running Injury

There has been a lot of discussion (as well as a lot of propaganda and rhetoric) and the concept that the getting the cadence to 180 a minute is an ideal way to run and can be used to prevent injury. All appraisals of that concept that I have read suggest its not right. There is certainly some good evidence that certain biomechanical parameters (and hence loads in certain tissues) can be altered with increases in the cadence. Now we have this systematic review of that evidence:

Influence of Stride Frequency and Length on Running Mechanics; A Systematic Review
Amy G. Schubert, Jenny Kempf, Bryan C. Heiderscheit
Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach October 23, 2013
Context: A high number of recreational runners sustain a running-related injury each year. To reduce injury risk, alterations in running form have been suggested. One simple strategy for running stride frequency or length has been commonly advocated.
Objective: To characterize how running mechanics change when stride frequency and length are manipulated.
Data Sources: In January 2012, a comprehensive search of PubMed, CINAHL Plus, SPORTDiscus, PEDro, and Cochrane was performed independently by 2 reviewers. A second search of the databases was repeated in June 2012 to ensure that no additional studies met the criteria after the initial search.
Level of Evidence: Level 3.
Study Selection: Inclusion criteria for studies were an independent variable including manipulation of stride frequency or length at a constant speed with outcome measures of running kinematics or kinetics.
Data Extraction: Two reviewers independently appraised each article using a modified version of the Quality Index, designed for assessing bias of nonrandomized studies.
Results: Ten studies met the criteria for this review. There was consistent evidence that increased stride rate resulted in decreased center of mass vertical excursion, ground reaction force, shock attenuation, and energy absorbed at the hip, knee, and ankle joints. All but 1 study had a limited number of participants, with several methodological differences existing among studies (eg, overground and treadmill running, duration of test conditions). Although speed was held constant during testing, it was individually self-selected or fixed. Most studies used only male participants.
Conclusion: Despite procedural differences among studies, an increased stride rate (reduced stride length) appears to reduce the magnitude of several key biomechanical factors associated with running injuries.

This was a good review of the available evidence and did identify a number of problems with that evidence. There has been more research since this review was completed (eg Increasing cadence and patellofemoral forces).

It is also worth keeping in mind what this review was not:

  • it was NOT a clinical trial; it was only a review of biomechanical studies; so my blog post title of ‘Increasing Cadence and Running Injury‘ is misleading, but I only did it to make this point, as so many will jump to the wrong conclusions from this type of research.
  • any links to changing cadence and injury based on this review are purely hypothetical (eg increasing cadence does reduce impact loads, but does impact loads really have anything to do with injury?).
  • increasing the cadence requires an increase in load in other tissues and this review did not address those issues. Increasing cadence can certainly reduce the load in some tissues (and hypothetically help an injury in those tissues), but does so at the cost of increasing the load in other tissues (see: Different Running Techniques Load Different Tissues Differently).

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise, and this study does strengthen the understanding of increasing the cadence to reduce the load in certain tissues, with the provisos mentioned above.

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