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Assistant Professor Gives Long-Distance Runners a Tune-Up through Gait Retraining

Assistant Professor Gives Long-Distance Runners a Tune-Up through Gait Retraining

Are you a recreational runner suffering from knee pain or shin splints? Assistant Professor Shelley Payne may have just the right prescription.

Payne, who teaches in the Department of Health and Sport Sciences, launched a clinical research project last fall with the use of contemporary functional gait retraining for the treatment of injuries in competitive and recreational runners.

“I’ve been involved with the treatment of runners pretty extensively since about 2000,” said Payne, who is a licensed physical therapist and athletic trainer.

Payne worked at The Ohio State University Sports Medicine Center before joining Max Sports Medicine in 2004. While at Max Sports, she served as a rehabilitation specialist, working primarily with student-athletes at Otterbein University until joining the faculty full time in 2010. She was named Otterbein New Teacher of the Year in 2012.

Payne completed pilot case studies on a pair of recreational runners — college students, a male and a female — suffering from patellofemoral pain syndrome commonly referred to as “runner’s knee” during fall semester.

“In the past, the way you treated runners with knee soreness was you worked on their flexibility and strength,” Payne said. “You saw them for four to six weeks and you said, ‘Ok, see you. Your strength is better, your flexibility is better. Go on about your life.’”

Instead of rehabilitation, Payne, in her research, focuses on the biomechanics of the runner, fine-tuning the runner’s form or gait to help treat the knee pain.

“There has been a lot of research in the last five years that shows if we change someone’s stride length or if we change their step frequency, then we can affect their perceived pain levels and the pain they experience when they run,” Payne said. “That’s a very different approach.”

Payne operates out of the Biomechanics Institute in the Center of Health and Sport Sciences, which opened last fall at Otterbein. The lab features a state-of-the-art Woodway treadmill, which simulates running over ground, Apple TV, iPads and television monitor. The Institute is largely funded by Otterbein’s Faculty Scholars Development Committee. The setup allows for filming the runner from the front, back and side, to be played back in slow motion or projected up onto the television screen

The two runners involved in the initial case studies showed considerable improvement over the four-week training period, which included eight sessions. The male runner treated his knee pain by increasing his stride frequency. The female runner improved through a slight change in her running form through watching her lower extremities while running.

“It was fairly painful,” said Aaron, the male subject in the test study, about his knee pain prior to the study. Due to confidentiality, we cannot reveal Aaron’s real name.

“I have had that pain constantly for the past few years when I run,” said Aaron, who logs 20 to 25 miles a week to stay fit and kill stress. “After a few miles, it would get pretty severe and I would have to slow myself down. After the study, it has definitely helped a lot. I do not have to stop myself as much because of pain.”

Aaron ran with a metronome, trying to match the tempo and keeping each stride the same over the course of his study. At the beginning, Aaron ran with the metronome turned on and off every other minute, which progressed in later sessions to four minutes on and four minutes off to finally, eight-minute intervals.

“I would feel less pain when I was in tempo,” Aaron said.

Going forward, Payne would like to expand her research to include faculty and staff, and the broader community. So much of the research in biomechanics at major universities has been conducted on 18- to 20-year-old athletes, which is an underrepresentation of the over 60 million runners and joggers in the United States.

“That’s where we are really trying to take this,” Payne said. “Take some of the very advanced biomechanical knowledge created by these larger institutions and apply it to real populations of runners.”

Payne hopes to put together soon a collaborative research project with Marathoners in Training, a program operated by Fleet Feet Sports Columbus, which has about 2,000 members from all levels — walkers, joggers and competitive marathoners.


Learn more about the Department of Health and Sport Sciences at Otterbein.