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Distractions may increase risk of running injury

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Runners who get distracted may be more likely to sustain leg injuries, according to research presented at the recent annual meeting of the Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) in Las Vegas.

The study suggests that visual and auditory distractions such as music, texting, taking in the sights, or propping a book up on the treadmill may lead to injury.

“There isn’t a lot of research that looks at the connections between cognitive stressors, or distractions, and injury risk,” commented lead investigator Dr Daniel Herman, assistant professor at University of Florida Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation. “This is an important topic to study as runners commonly attend to distractions such as music, crowd noise, or other runners.”

The research team recruited 14 runners for tests to determine what effect, if any, visual and auditory distractions would have on things such as how much a runner breathes per minute and how much of that oxygen is utilised by the body, heart rate, the amount of energy expended, running rhythm, the length and width of steps, the speed in which runners apply force to their bodies, and the force the ground applies to the runners’ bodies when they come in contact with it.

When compared to running without distractions, the participants had faster application of force to their legs (known as loading rate) with auditory and visual distractions. They also experienced an increased amount of force from the ground (ground reaction force) with auditory distractions. Additionally, the runners tended to breathe heavier and have higher heart rates with auditory and visual distractions than without any distractions.

“Running in environments with different distracting features may adversely affect running performance and injury risk,” Dr Herman explained. “Sometimes these things cannot be helped, but you may be able to minimise potentially cumulative effects. For example, when running a new route in a chaotic environment such as during a destination marathon, you may want to skip listening to something which may require more attention — like a new song playlist or a podcast.”

The AAP reported that Dr Herman’s team will continue to investigate the potential relationship between distracted running and leg injuries, including the characteristics of runners who may be more or less susceptible to this effect, and any effect this relationship has on different training techniques that use auditory or visual cues.