Introduction: Although running surface stiffness has been associated with overuse injuries, all evidence to support this suggestion has been circumstantial. In the present study, the biomechanical response of heel-toe runners to changes in running surface has been investigated.
Methods: Six heel-toe runners performed shod running trials over three surfaces: a conventional asphalt surface, a new rubber-modified asphalt surface, and an acrylic sports surface. The surfaces were categorised according to impact absorbing ability using standard impact test procedures (BS 7044).
Results: The rubber-modified asphalt was found to exhibit the greatest amount of mechanical impact absorption, and the conventional asphalt the least. The comparison of peak impact force values across surfaces for the group of subjects demonstrated no significant differences in magnitude of force. However, a significant reduction in loading rate of peak impact force was detected for the rubber-modified surface compared with conventional asphalt (P < 0.1). Although analysis of group data revealed no significant differences in kinematic variables when running on the different surfaces, a varied response to surface manipulation among runners was demonstrated, with marked differences in initial joint angles, peak joint angles, and peak joint angular velocities being observed.
Discussion: For some subjects, the maintenance of similar peak impact forces for different running surfaces was explained by observed kinematic adjustments. For example, when running on the surface providing the least impact absorption, an increased initial knee flexion was observed for some subjects, suggesting an increased lower extremity compliance. However, for some subjects, sagittal plane kinematic data were not sufficient for the explanation of peak impact force results. It appears that the mechanism of adaptation varies among runners, highlighting the requirement of individual subject analyses.