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Sensors and cameras capture a runner’s gait, to see if the cadence evenly distributes forces on their knees. 

For runners who experience knee pain, the right music may just be the ticket to a gentler workout.

Physical therapy researchers in Creighton University’s School of Pharmacy and Health Professions are using music to help runners find a beat to their paces, shortening strides and thereby lessening impact on knees. The researchers are hoping to find another approach to help runners experiencing patellar-femoral pain syndrome (PFPS), a common ailment for runners.

The typical way to adjust a runner’s cadence — the number of steps taken per minute — is a metronome. Physical therapists take a baseline reading of a runner’s cadence and then try to increase the steps per minute taken by the runner by 10 to 15 percent.

“Rather than listening to a boring metronome just beeping at you, we thought a music mix would work,” said Danny McAndrew, a third-year physical therapy student who is leading the research with faculty advisor and physical therapy professor Terry Grindstaff, PhD, and Brooke Farmer, MS, ATC, a research assistant in the department. “Music has been proven to be motivational and to increase enjoyment. People who run, many of them have a better feeling when they’ve got music.”

Research participants come into the PT lab at Creighton and run for seven minutes as the researchers use sensors and cameras to the subject’s running gait. With that baseline established, the researchers provide the runner with a playlist and tell them to spend the next two weeks running to the beats — staying at the same running speed, just finding a different cadence.

The playlists have a range of musical genres — everything from rock and hip-hop to country and classical.

“We wanted some breadth in there so everyone could find something comfortable,” McAndrew said.

When the participants come back for another look two weeks later, the hope is the music has helped them find a cadence that more evenly distributes the forces on their knees.

The study broadens from there, too, with potential applications for movement or gait disorders like those found in Parkinson’s disease.

If you're a runner who experiences knee pain while running and are interested in being a part of this study, contact Brooke Farmer.

To apply to Creighton, click here.

Creighton University offers a top-ranked education in the Jesuit, Catholic tradition — and a welcoming, supportive environment to a diverse community of educators, professionals and support staff. Read more about the university, and connect with Creighton on Facebook,  Twitter  and Instagram.

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