Purpose: High school cross-country runners have a high incidence of injury, particularly at the shin and knee. An increased step rate during running has been shown to reduce impact forces and loading of the lower extremity joints. The purpose of this prospective study was to examine step rate as a risk factor for injury occurrence.
Materials and methods: Running step rates of 68 healthy high school cross-country runners (47 females; 21 males; mean age 16.2 ± 1.3 yr) were assessed at a fixed speed (3.3 ± 0.0 m·s) and self-selected speed (mean, 3.8 ± 0.5 m·s). Runners were prospectively followed during the interscholastic season to determine athletic exposures, occurrences of shin injury and anterior knee pain (AKP), and days lost to injury.
Results: During the season, 19.1% of runners experienced a shin injury and 4.4% experienced AKP. Most injuries (63.6%) were classified as minor (1-7 d lost). At the fixed speed, runners in the lowest tertile of step rate (≤164 steps per minute) were more likely (odds ratio, 6.67; 95% confidence interval, 1.2-36.7; P = 0.03) to experience a shin injury compared with runners in the highest tertile (≥174 steps per minute). Similarly, for self-selected speed, runners in the lowest tertile (≤166 steps per minute) (odds ratio, 5.85; 95% confidence interval, 1.1-32.1; P < 0.04) were more likely to experience a shin injury than runners in the highest tertile (≥178 steps per minute). AKP incidence was not significantly influenced by step rate.
Conclusion: A lower running step rate was associated with a greater likelihood of shin injury at both self-selected and fixed running speeds. Future studies evaluating whether increasing running step rate reduces shin injury risk and time lost during a high school cross-country season should be considered.