Effect of step width manipulation on tibial stress during running

Narrow step width has been linked to variables associated with tibial stress fracture. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of step width on bone stresses using a standardized model of the tibia. 15 runners ran at their preferred 5k running velocity in three running conditions, preferred step width (PSW) and PSW±5% of leg length. 10 successful trials of force and 3-D motion data were collected. A combination of inverse dynamics, musculoskeletal modeling and beam theory was used to estimate stresses applied to the tibia using subject-specific anthropometrics and motion data. The tibia was modeled as a hollow ellipse. Multivariate analysis revealed that tibial stresses at the distal 1/3 of the tibia differed with step width manipulation (p=0.002). Compression on the posterior and medial aspect of the tibia was inversely related to step width such that as step width increased, compression on the surface of tibia decreased (linear trend p=0.036 and 0.003). Similarly, tension on the anterior surface of the tibia decreased as step width increased (linear trend p=0.029). Widening step width linearly decreased shear stress at all 4 sites (p<0.001 for all). The data from this study suggests that stresses experienced by the tibia during running were influenced by step width when using a standardized model of the tibia. Wider step widths were generally associated with reduced loading of the tibia and may benefit runners at risk of or experiencing stress injury at the tibia, particularly if they present with a crossover running style.