Let’s face it; running is a one of the most repetitive sports out there. Every second that passes, every movement you do, every breath you take is accomplished to repeat the same motion. Some people think we’re crazy for loving it as much as we do; we tell them they don’t know what they’re missing out on!
The only part perhaps that is not so enjoyable are the injuries. Aches and pains come with the territory of any sport but runners tend to get more than most due to its high-impact, repetitive nature. Now whilst that doesn’t put us off; it should make us think twice.
According to research, 79% of runners experience injuries at least once every year. Now if you think about it, that’s eight in every ten runners that get hurt annually. These figures may come to you as a surprise and knowing why they are so commonplace gives us clarification on how they can be avoided.
What are the main causes of running injuries?
We want our activities to be as pain-free and healthy for our bodies as possible; that’s the point of exercise after all right?! Let’s get into the details of what the main issues are behind why runners get injured.
1. Structural imbalance
This means our bodies are naturally disproportionate in some way. This may start from one leg being longer than the other to a weakness in a muscle.
Structurally speaking, this area can be built upon by strength training that is running specific or physio. This means building up areas of high-usage in the gait cycle such as the hips is crucial. Weak hip strength is an underlying factor of many runners’ knee issues.
Without working on building up the fundamentals first, you cannot expect your body to effortlessly glide through every motion without consequence. Also, core strength needs to be improved upon too as an essential element of your training routine. When you focus on improving your structural strength and flexibility, this will go hand-in-hand with your aerobic advancements.
Remember: They key is to keep patient and not jump levels too quickly. Stick to a steady progression and if you start in good time, you should reach your goals before your deadline.
2. How we approach training
Whether we are pushing too hard too fast so our bodies don’t have time to adjust or running too regularly so we don’t have sufficient rest. Basically, the second reason for injuries is that our fitness level is more advanced than our current structural condition.
Runners who get regular shin splints usually develop their anaerobic level quicker than they develop their bones and muscle groups. They may also experience IT band inflammation as hip strength wouldn’t be strong yet.
Remember: Giving the body time to adapt to running for longer or faster stretches is essential to maintaining a healthy body. They key to dodging injury is to check your body is structurally balanced throughout training and gradually increase speed/distance.
Taking Speed Training Easy at the Start
Gradual increase as you’ve guessed is best but runners all too often tend to skip phases and enter quickly into speed training. It’s important to remember that even though you’ve built up your endurance and aerobic ability, speed is still a new arena. You need to ease your way into it gently so you can build muscular readiness without threatening your joints health.
Another crucial factor is allowing ample time for your body to recover and adjust. By simply including slower runs into your routine, you'll give your body the best chance of recovery from the stress.
Injuries Most Common to Runners
A study was conducted by the Australian Sports Commission which took over a million people from age 15 plus and based the survey on their running for the previous year. They discovered that one of the most common reasons for injury was over-training. People were pushing their bodies and they were not ready.
We have already examined how structural readiness must be balanced with anaerobic level. However, results revealed that 70% of the runners experienced over-training injuries during the year. 42% of those were as you may have guessed, knee injuries; one of the most common known to runners. Following close behind were feet, ankle, lower leg and hip issues.
They also discovered the cause of these injuries were from a range of factors such as:
- Running frequency
- Speed of running
- Lack of strength / flexibility in muscle groups
The Secret to Avoiding Injuries
As runners we know that injuries altogether are unavoidable. There are some things we can do however to steer us clear of those common running injuries mentioned above. Now we know the common pitfalls of regular runners, we can discover the secrets to not following suit.
1. Injuries hit most when runners don’t train smart.
If you’re anything like me, you tend to get ahead of yourself. Now I’m all for believing in your full potential but it pays to have a realistic view of your own body’s progress. Training smart just means you use more efficient effort levels to get optimal results.
The road to lesser injuries and quickest improvement is to gain the best benefit whilst experiencing as little stress as possible. So if this means starting slow until you reach your desired speed and distance then so be it. The key is to follow a methodical and progressive training routine so each
2. Gradual increases and rest days are key
Increasing the rate and distance you run will most likely have the most effect on staying healthy or fast-tracking an injury. The more gradual the increase, the less you will have to worry in terms of injuries. This may seem obvious but many runners fail to do this time and time again.
How to gradually increase: adding a maximum of 1 mile per day is sufficient to improving mileage if you’re an advanced runner. If you’re just starting out however, it’s suggested to start 2-3 days weekly for 1-4 miles. Keep this consistent for 3-4 weeks until you feel ready to gradually increase mileage and give your body time to adjust. No matter how many miles you increase though, always remember to spread it throughout the week to give yourself rest days in between.
3. See a musculoskeletal professional
This will be especially effective if you are just starting out
Before starting a regular running, see a professional to identify potential musculoskeletal and health problems that may contribute to injury. Even if your a regular runner, if you are experiencing frequent injuries it may be worth getting checked out. Otherwise, the other elements are mainly down to steady pacing and progression.
Here are some crucial secrets to keeping your body healthy and protected whilst running:
Warm ups –remember them!
Start off walking and take it easy. You want your warm ups to ease you into running sessions gently. Warming up is actually a key factor in injury prevention. Starting with dynamic stretching is great for getting the body ready for what it’s about to do.
A Sports Chiropractor has created a specific running warm up regime which helped me greatly in my own healthy progression. The great thing about dynamic warm ups is that your pulse rate and circulation increases whilst muscles stretch in preparation for the physical activity.
The most beneficial part of warm-ups is how it literally warms the muscles to ward off acute injuries such as strains or overuse issues that commonly plague runners. It gives your body time to do this safely and gradually plus enables them to function effectively.
Join a running club
When you run with others who take the sport seriously, you will find they make a conscious effort to advance their running form and technique. You want to surround yourself with good examples and experienced runners who know what they are doing and can guide you for your own form. Good technique is crucial to preventing injury. You want to focus on perfecting cadence and stride.
Cadence will be determined by your height, weight, stride and leg. Usually runners fall between 160-170 steps per minute. Research reveals that a faster cadence could alter a runner’s form for the better and prevent injuries. This is by minor increases in stride lessening the weight on hips and knee joints thus decreasing the chances of aches.
Take it sloooooow
As we’ve mentioned, the vast majority of runners progress way too quickly. The key is to avoid doing too much too soon and setting a realistic training plan from the start. On your rest days (allowing 1-2 days between running sessions) you could alternatively do cycling, swimming or another low impact workout.
Listen to your body
We cannot understate the importance of listening to how you feel. Your body will provide warning signs when you overdo it. The biggest mistake runners make unknowingly is not listening to their body and often, runners could avoid overuse injuries if this was the case.
If you’re a recreational runner, it may be you have an emotional attachment to running and so won’t be as goal orientated as those who run professionally. This means you want to remain objective so that you always think about the healthiest process for your body.
There are several ways in which you can do this:
Start by being in tune with your body and knowing what it needs and when.
- Ensure you have the right running shoes for your gait and running goals. For example, if you are an under-pronator you should look for accommodating shoes that provide ample support. You should also update your running shoes regularly as they tend to wear after 300 miles. Once the tread wears the shock will fail to absorb effectively and put extra pressure on your joints.
- Stretching post-run: if you have been guilty of skipping post-run stretches, you’re not alone. The fact of the matter is, stretching after your run is crucial to relaxing your muscles. The American Council on Exercise actually suggests the post-stretch is more important than warm-ups. This is because your muscles and tissue are more flexible and therefore will get more out of stretching. You will become less susceptible to injury whilst conditioning and repairing your body for future sessions.
Take on these tips for a healthier running routine and an less-injury-prone body. We want you to get the most out of your running and addressing these issues from the get go is a big part of keeping your passion consistent.