The increased injury risk in older runners has been associated with alterations in muscle strength, flexibility, and gait biomechanics. This study investigated whether older runners exhibit changes in muscle strength, flexibility and running biomechanics compared to younger runners, and possible relationships between these changes.
Thirty-five young (20-36yrs) and 35 older (55-71yrs) recreational runners participated in the study. Measures of three-dimensional biomechanical data during treadmill running at 2.7m/s and measures of muscle strength and flexibility were compared between groups. A correlation analysis between biomechanical and clinical variables was also performed.
Older runners demonstrated an overall reduction in muscle strength and flexibility, and altered running patterns compared to young runners but correlations between clinical and biomechanical variables were scarce. Reduced hip, ankle and trunk excursions along with reduced knee and ankle positive work were found in older runners. Older runners also exhibited increased knee abduction impulse, ankle abduction impulse and vertical loading rates. In contrast, older runners did not present a distal-to-proximal lower extremity joint moment redistribution.
We observed age-related reduced strength and flexibility concomitant with alterations in running biomechanics, but a lack of correlation between these variables. This finding hampers the use of single, or even a subset of characteristics to better understand age-related changes in runners. The observed changes are complex and multivariate in nature. Clinicians will most likely have to monitor both clinical and biomechanical characteristics to optimize care. However, future studies need to prospectively address what are biomechanical age-related risk factors in runners.