Run away from injury!
Do you dream of being that runner where every mile is 100% pain free? No aches, no twinges or niggles, no lingering soreness from yesterday’s session. Up to 79% of runners get injured at least once each year. Stop. Think about that number for a moment; nearly 8 out of every 10 runners you see at your next race have been or will be injured sometime this year.
Think of running pains in terms of a spectrum. At one end you have severe, full-blown injuries, we’ll name that the red zone, which includes stress fractures that require time off. The other end, where you’re in top form, is the green zone.
Mild, transient aches that bug you one day and disappear the next sit closer to the green end. Unfortunately, many runners get stuck in the middle, in the not-quite-injured but not-quite-healthy yellow zone.
Your ability to stay in the green zone depends largely on how you react to that first stab of pain. Often a little rest now, or reduction in training mileage and intensity, with some treatment, can prevent a lot of time off later. Developing a proactive long-term injury-prevention strategy, such as strength training, stretching, regular massage and foam-rolling can help keep you in the ‘green.’ Physical therapy is a lot like homework, not all of us like having to do it, but if you don’t do it, you’re sure to get in trouble at some stage!
So, What Causes Running Injuries?
There are a lot of theories as to what causes running injury but it seems the answer is fairly obvious: running!
Research has stated that “running practice is a necessary cause for RRI (Running Related Injury) and, in fact, the only necessary cause.” With running being the key risk factor for running injuries what other factors influence risk? Historically a lot of emphasis was placed on intrinsic factors like leg length discrepancy, pronation (flat foot), high arches, genu valgus/varum (knock knee or bow legged) and extrinsic factors like ‘special’ running shoes being stability shoes or anti-pronation shoes, lack of stretching. However, recent studies have shown there is no one specific risk factor that has a direct cause-effect relationship with injury rate or injury prevention. Whilst warming up, compression garments, acupuncture and massage have some evidence in reducing injury rates it is all a little grey. Leaving you with a multifactorial buffet of probable contributing causes to running injuries.
There is however one specific factor that has been proven, and that is training error. Estimates suggest that anywhere from 60 to as much as 80% of running injuries are due to training errors. Runners become injured when they exceed their tissues capacity to tolerate load. A combination of overloading with inadequate recovery time. Poorly perfused tissues, such as ligaments, tendons and cartilage, are particularly at risk because they adapt more slowly than muscles to increased mechanical load.
Factors that affect how much training load a runner can tolerate before injury will also have a role. There are 2 key factors that appear to play a part in this – Body Mass Index (BMI > 25) and history of previous injury, especially in the last 12 months. While high BMI and previous injury may reduce the amount of running your body can manage, strength and conditioning is likely to increase it.
There is a growing body of evidence supporting the use of strength training to reduce injury risk and improve performance. Training error and injury risk share a complex relationship – it may not be that total running mileage on its own is key but how quickly this increases, hill and speed training. The old saying of “too much, too soon” is probably quite accurate.
Injury prevention is really a ‘mirror image’ of the causes of an injury. So, if you understand the primary reasons for getting injured then you are heading in the right direction to staying healthy this running season.
What are The Most Common Running Injuries?
Muscles and tendons are continuously stressed and repaired on a daily basis, as a result of both ‘normal’ functional activities and sport. An overuse injury often occurs when a specific tissue fails to repair in the time available, begins to breakdown initially at microscopic level and then over time develops into a true injury. So, the first time you feel a soreness, a stiffness or a pain is not necessarily when it all began.
The most common injury is ‘runners knee’ or patellofemoral pain syndrome and accounts for over 40% of running injuries. This is followed closely by plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinopathy and then ITB (iliotibial band syndrome), shin splints and hamstring strain. These injuries generally need complete rest or at least a reduction in training volume and intensity. Followed by physical therapy or massage to promote tissue healing and mobility. Although these are overuse injuries there is frequently an underlying muscle weakness and/or flexibility issue that needs to be addressed with specific rehabilitation exercises.
While guidance can be given, it is general in its nature, whereas individual complaints may need individual attention. If you do pick up an injury (including ‘tightness’ ‘irritation’ or ‘niggle’) that you’re worried about then Martin can help. The sooner it’s treated the better.
Running injury advice from the professionals
Martin’s content providers Co-Kinetic have produced a series of prevention and treatment guides for the 6 most common running injuries which you can download if you subscribe to Martin’s email newsletter below.
- Medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints)
- Patellofemoral pain (runner’s knee)
- Achilles tendinopathy
- Plantar fasciitis
- Hamstring strains
- Iliotibial band syndrome
Just complete the form at the bottom of this page with your name and email address, and Martin will send you a monthly email will useful links to injury prevention and management advice. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Martin Kingston McCloghry