There are significant changes that take place in the kinetic forces of the body, particularly of the lower extremity, during sloped running.
This makes the understanding of adaptive gait-control mechanisms and their relationship with injuries, imperative to formulate successful training and injury-management programs.
The pattern of ankle joint kinetics in the transversal plane undergoes considerable alterations in laterally elevated conditions, and plays an important role in the choice of running environment, especially for athletes recovering from injuries of the lower limbs.
Decline-slope running increases ground reaction forces and knee power absorption, whereas running on an incline decreases these forces considerably.
This was demonstrated by Gottschall and Kram in their study while investigating ground reaction forces during downhill and uphill running. It was found that during downhill running, normal impact force peaks and parallel braking force peaks were larger, increasing by 54% and 73% respectively.
This suggests that the higher impact forces at play during decline running can increase the risk of musculoskeletal injury, more specifically overuse running injury.
The biomechanical differences that arise during incline and decline activity were also recorded in the study conducted by Telhan et al., which concluded that running on level and moderately inclined slopes appeared to be a safe component of training regimens and return-to-run protocols after injury.
Adequate muscle strength and good form are critical for running up and down hills, especially to avoid pathologies of the lower extremity.
A slanted ground surface alters footstrike, forcing a transition to mid/forefoot-striking style and increasing the forces going through the calves and ankles.
Leaning forward excessively at the waist while running uphill puts more strain on the hip flexors and the knee, shortening the hip flexor’s range of motion and affecting the efficiency of the individual.
This also makes it harder to produce a powerful toe-off during the drive phase of gait and throws the body off-balance by moving the centre of gravity too far forward.
A downhill run forces the foot to strike the ground more towards the heel, which increases braking forces. This necessitates a need to avoid leaning backward excessively, as this will only magnify the effect of the braking forces.
The key lies in striking a balance between efficiently using the speed from the downhill and running at a normal pace rather than an aggressive one.
With a significant increase in impact and braking forces while running downhill, the muscles, tendons, joints and bones of the leg need to be at their functional best in order to absorb all the extra impact.
This is why conservative measures are needed to boost optimal arthrokinematics of the foot and ankle; this is crucial to postural stability and balance of the body. This will also ensure a stable base of support for resistance against impact forces during decline and incline activity.
In addition to enhancing optimal articulation alignment, enhanced proprioceptive input function must be encouraged to boost sensory input from the plantar surface of the foot.
This will help in improving the range of motion of all articulations and ensure neuromuscular efficiency, which produces the greatest productive force while maintaining full functionality in the foot.
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