It’s a familiar sensation for many runners. You’re running down the pathways, feeling great, and then it starts: a pain around the front of your kneecap. You try to think nothing of it, until it escalates to the point where you can’t walk up and down stairs without searing pain. It happens to the best of them and it happens to the casual runner, too. It’s called patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) and a recent study out of the University of Calgary might have found a solution.
The study’s lead researcher was U of C PhD student Ryan Lewinson. He was involved in testing 27 runners diagnosed with PFPS. The testing worked like this: one group of runners got one size of orthotic, and the other group got a different size. They went through a gait analysis – that’s a fancy way of saying that their movement was studied carefully – and their pain levels were studied.
The runners used the insole for a six week period during all their regular runs. (All runners had to run at least 15 kilometres per week. Impressive.)
It turns out, reductions in pain were found for individuals who wore both sizes of insole. The pain reduction is due to how much of a change the orthotic caused in the runner’s biomechanics.
“Specifically, those who experienced large changes to knee loading tended to experience larger reductions in pain, whereas those experiencing just small biomechanical changes tended to only experience small or no reductions in pain,” Lewinson is quoted by UToday as saying.
According to Lewinson, the next step is further fine-tuning orthotics for runners. Let’s be clear. These aren’t the one-size-fits-all kind of orthotics you buy for $20 from Shopper’s Drug Mart. These orthotics will be custom insoles specifically designed to alter biomechanics. The hope is that, in the future, a runner’s biomechanical response can be predicted without a special lab. Then these orthotics can be designed based on an individual’s unique characteristics to treat runners on a case-by-case basis.
But, until then, there’s no quick and easy fix. So get out that ice pack.
Read the full study at journals.plos.org.