Do you dream of being that runner where every step of every mile is 100% pain free? No aches, no twinges or niggles, no lingering soreness from yesterday’s session. Well, you are not alone; research shows that as many as 79% of runners get injured at least once during the 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 that 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.
Don’t Overwork Yourself
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.
Keys to Preventing Running Injuries
Prevention is essentially the ‘mirror image’ of risks or causes of injuries. If you understand those, then you know where to start. The high rate of running injuries makes focusing on prevention key. If you can prevent injuries, you’ll be able to run more consistently, reach a higher weekly mileage, do more challenging workouts – and ultimately, race a lot faster for longer.