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Gender differences in the kinetics and kinematics of distance running.
Interest in distance running amongst females has expanded rapidly in recent years. This is substantiated by the number of women now participating distance running training (Nelson et al 1995). The increase in women's running activities has stimulated many sport scientists to investigate the various aspects of female running performance.
Research carried out on the mechanics of gait has predominantly been conducted using male subjects. There is minimal information available concerning female distance runners (Nelson et al 1995). Only one study, to date, has addressed differences in lower extremity joint mechanics between genders during running. Malinzak et al., (2001) studied the frontal and sagittal plane motion of the knee in 11 male and 9 female runners. They reported that, while the frontal plane excursion was similar between genders, females exhibited 11 more valgus throughout the stance phase. In addition, women were found to exhibit less peak knee flexion and less knee flexion excursion compared to men. However, this study was limited in that the authors did not investigate hip or ankle kinematics or observe motion in the transverse plane.
Running, is and will likely continue to be the sport of choice for millions of people, both males and females alike (Taunton et al., 2002). Although, there are numerous health benefits associated with running (as discussed in chapter 2), the occurrence of injury is well documented (Taunton et al., 2002). It has been documented in running and others sports that females sustain different injury patterns than age matched males, but the etiology of these injuries continue to be uncertain. It is proposed that females are almost twice as likely to sustain a running injury (Geraci and Brown 2005 and Taunton et al 2002).
While gender differences in lower extremity structure have been studied, little attention has been devoted to differences in running mechanics between men and women (R). There are several notable anatomical/physiological differences between males and females that may influence running biomechanics. The average mature male is greater in both height and mass and has a lower body fat percentage than the average female (Atwater 1990). In a study providing anatomical reference data Wilmore (1982) found that males are on average 0.12m taller than females and 18kg heavier, whilst carrying on average 9% less body fat. Increased muscular mass in males is attributable to the higher levels of testosterone, whilst increases in oestrogen contribute to the higher body fat percentage found in females (Wilmore 1982). It has been postulated that known differences in structure may predispose females to differences in running mechanics which, over many repetitions, may lead to specific injuries.
The shoe reflects the primary interface between runner and surface and thus has an important function in the management of injuries (Shorten 2000). The running shoe has changed significantly over the past twenty years. A special issue are the specific demands of athletic footwear for women as compared to men's shoes. Traditionally, women's sport shoes have been made using a small version of a men's last with all dimensions proportionally scaled according to foot length (Wunderlich and Cavanagh 2002).
Previous studies of gender differences in foot shape are extremely limited. Knowledge of the anthropometric characteristics of the foot is essential in order to design appropriately fitting footwear that protects against the stresses imposed by running. The majority of shoes for women are simply scaled down versions of the same shoe for men (Frey 2000), previous studies although extremely limited; suggest that differences do exist between genders at the arch and the ball of the foot (R). Very few studies have been conducted examining the functional variations between male and female feet.
Some foot shape characteristics have been proposed as being predisposing factors for overuse injuries (Kaufman et al., 1999), and the shoe is widely recognised for its influence on the interface between foot and ground. As stated previously women's sport shoes have been made using a small version of a men's last with all dimensions proportionally scaled according to foot length. Therefore, if women's feet differ in shape from men's feet, this is an inappropriate model for a women's shoe last and could lead not only to an improper fit but to a shoe that does not meet the specific demands of female runners.
The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society's Survey provided by Frey et al., (1993) determined that the majority of the women surveyed reported foot pain whilst wearing shoes, and displayed some evidence of foot abnormality. These figures suggest that greater attention should be paid to the shape and fit of shoes worn by females (Wunderlich and Cavanagh 2001). However, despite increasing participation of women in sport at both the elite and recreational levels, and increasing awareness of the predisposition of women to particular injuries in sport, surprisingly little attention has been given to foot shape and sport shoe and boot fit in women. Previous studies of gender differences in foot shape are limited. Studies of external foot shape have been focused on shoe fit and/or ethnic differences, and they are usually limited in the number of dimensions examined and therefore in their ability to fully characterize foot shape.
In summary, little information exists on gender related differences in the secondary planes of movement for lower extremity running mechanics between genders. Taking into account the likely increase in distance running in females and the lack of research incorporating female subjects suggests that information regarding the biomechanical aspects of female distance running mechanics would be of practical significance. Understanding the differences in running mechanics between male and female runners may lend insight into the etiology of different injury patterns seen between genders.
Furthermore, correct shoe fit is traditionally achieved by matching shoe shape to foot shape (Wunderlich and Cavanagh 2001). Appreciation of the gender differences in foot shape is therefore essential to the proper design of both men's and women's shoes. Footwear companies have traditionally designed and manufactured female footwear based on data collected on male participants (Stefanyshyn et al 2003). Thus, despite known differences between the two genders, female footwear does not take these aspects into account. In fact, a complete examination of female running biomechanics has yet to be completed.
Do females require different running footwear? Proceedings of the Sixth Symposium on Footwear Biomechanics, 91-92. Stefanyshyn, D.J., Stergiou, P., Nigg, B.M., Rozitis, A.I. and Goepfert, B. (2003)
The purpose of this investigation was to determine if female runners have different biomechanical factors than male runners and to use this information for appropriate footwear design. The aim of this aspect is to provide a kinetic and kinematic comparison of male and female runners. In addition this study also aims to assess gender variations in foot shape in a variety of foot and leg measurements. This examination may provide insight for future shoe design to prevent injury and better accommodate the female athlete.
In summary the aims of this study is to determine
- To determine whether gender differences exist in the kinematics of running, that may contribute to the development of injury.
- To determine whether gender differences in foot morphology exist, that may have implications for the design for footwear.
- To determine whether gender differences in impact kinetics exist.
- To determine whether females require specific footwear tailored to their own needs.
- Significant differences will exist in the kinematics of running which may predispose females to different injuries than their male counterparts.
- Differences in foot shape between the two genders will be large enough to conclude that the female foot is not merely a scaled down version of a male foot.
- Females do require running shoe designs specifically engineered for their own needs.
Ferrari J and Watkinson D (2005). Foot pressure measurement differences between boys and girls with reference to hallux valgus deformity and hypermobility. Foot and Ankle International, 26, p 739-747.