Study: orthotics not a biomechanical fix for runner’s knee

New research doesn't rule out the benefit of orthotics, but questions their role in fixing knee and hip alignment.

A recently published study suggests that orthotics may not help runner’s knee; or rather, that they may not remedy the common running ailment in the way we think they do.

Researchers from East Carolina University decided to take a closer look at the biomechanics of runners who pronate. For years, the thinking has been that pronation causes stress no the biomechanics chain, which over time triggers patellofemoral pain syndrome, a.k.a, runner’s knee.

The study involved 40 women who over-pronate and run regularly. Women were selected because they have been shown to be more susceptible to runner’s knee. Of the group, half had been suffering from runner’s knee for more than two months. The other half were without injury.

All of the participants were fitted with the same shoes (New Balance 629) and their running form was analyzed with a motion detection device.

The researchers were most interested in the runners’ knee and hip alignment. What they found was that there was a tiny shift when orthotics were used, but that the change in alignment wasn’t significant enough to improve their biomechanics to relieve pain.

They also found that the alignment shift caused by orthotics could, one the hand, help reduce IT band strain, but on the other cause strain at the knee.

John D. Wilson, one of the authors of the study, did feel that orthotics do have some potential value in helping runners. “There’s real science behind the idea that orthotics can decrease pain,” Wilson stated. “But the mechanisms are less clear.”

The study concluded that while orthotics may not play as crucial a role in relieving runner’s knee through correcting biomechanics, they still may somehow help. Previous studies have pointed out that orthotics could reduce lower leg movement and the fatiguing of muscles, or alter how the muscles are activated during running.