The purpose of this research was to determine the effects of step uncertainty on shock attenuation and knee/subtalar synchrony. Uncertainty was manipulated by decreasing the intensity of light and introducing bumps to the running surface. Twelve experienced distance runners ran at their chosen pace on a treadmill with two surfaces (smooth and irregular) and three light intensities (light, medium, dark). Knee angle, subtalar angle, leg impacts, and head impacts were recorded at 1,000 Hz. Heart rate was also monitored. Injury potential was assessed by evaluating the impacts and asynchronous activity between the knee and subtalar joint. Stride length was not influenced by either source of uncertainty. Heart rate increased with the intensity of light on the smooth running surface but decreased with the intensity of light on the irregular surface. The knee was more flexed at heel contact during the irregular surface conditions but was not affected by the intensity of light. This decreased the effective mass of the impact and allowed greater peak leg accelerations and greater impact attenuation during irregular surface running. There was a decrease in the rearfoot angle at contact on the irregular surface that approached significance (p = 0.056). Knee/subtalar asynchrony increased with the intensity of light on the smooth surface but decreased on the irregular surface. It appears that participants used the knee joint to adapt to the irregular surface and thus accommodate changes in the terrain. The subtalar joint may have become more stable during irregular surface running to minimize the chance of inversion sprains. The effects of intensity of light were small and generally mediated the irregular surface effects. Overall, these adaptations likely reduced the potential for injury during irregular surface running but may have been detrimental to performance.
The authors are with the Department of Health and Human Performance, 235 Forker Bldg., Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011.