Research shows that nearly half of all recreational runners get injuries. As a runner, nothing is worse than being sidelined because of pain. Runners are usually in tune with their bodies except for when it comes to injuries, as most ignore the warning signs and try to muddle through. Both elite runners and novices experience setbacks during training. The secret is to recognize and catch any minor symptoms so they can be addressed before an injury sidelines you. Minor symptoms usually only require modification in training, while more severe injuries need a complete break from running. We will outline how you can prevent running injuries with a few minor changes. You can’t completely prevent running injuries, but you can certainly minimize the chances of developing an injury by understanding and correcting the causes.
Most of the pains and strains caused by running result from inadequate rest, overtraining, and poor mechanics. The good news is that these are easily addressable by a Strong body, Good Form, and Proper Training!
1. Inadequate Rest Period
Our muscles and bones get stronger when they are pushed past their comfort zone and given the time they need to heal. Our strength, speed, and endurance only improve through work or training. The training causes stress on the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, leading to microscopic breakdowns in the muscle and bones. A rest period allows the musculoskeletal system to build up even more robust. Without the rest period, the body does not get a chance to reform and rebuild stronger. Instead, continuation of the same exercise cuses the same stress on the weakened and vulnerable tissue.
Adequate rest is just as important as training to improve physical strength and endurance.
The ‘runner’s high’ is often questioned, as many runners say they don’t experience it, but they certainly know when they don’t run. It’s like a hidden euphoria. A day off for a runner is usually filled with guilt and a feeling of lethargy. So many runners skip their day off for fear of losing conditioning when the opposite is true. Without that adequate rest period, minor strains build into tendinosis and, when left unchecked even stress fractures. Muscle strain is part of conditioning but the muscle needs time to recover and improve.
Rest days don’t mean sitting on the couch. The best way to speed up the healing after hard training is to keep the blood pumping, but with a different activity. Swimming, biking, elliptical, weight training, yoga, and even walking are all great for your active rest days. Any cross-training that helps increase blood flow will speed up recovery.
Overtraining is the #1 cause of running injuries. Adding too many miles and training at too high of an intensity without listening to your body leads to a disaster. The 80/20 rule of training leads to the best outcome. 80% consistent and 20% high-intensity workout – 80% of your workouts should be at your normal pace, but 20% should be at a high intensity. To increase distance, you should only have a 10-15% increase in mileage added each week. Pace yourself. You can push hard, but do it in steps to slowly build up injury-free.
Remember to listen to your body and know your limits. Injury is likely your only outcome if you keep pushing yourself to meet grandiose goals. Once you feel sluggish, your body slows down, or times decrease, these are warning signs – STOP, reduce your time or distance or even take a day or two and take time to recover.
Overuse injuries most commonly affect our muscle tendons. Tendons are thick, fibrous bands with poor blood supply. Tendons are secret weapons for athletes because they function to save energy, control movements, and improve explosive power! Tendon health is so critical in sports because healthy tendons improve sports performance. When your tendon is symptomatic, along with pain, there are also changes in your motor response. Even when you no longer have pain, individuals with previous injuries to their tendons have lost some of that explosive power they once had. It is difficult for the tendon to regain its innate power after injury. You, therefore, want to catch and prevent any damage to your tendons.
To avoid injury, you must gradually add miles or intensity to your training and ensure that you allow adequate active rest for healing.
3. Poor Technique
If you are putting in mileage and able to increase your intensity free of injury, then there is no need to change or alter something that is working. But if you’re having pain or running at a high level, your mechanics should be assessed as minor tweaks in your form can make dramatic improvements. There is no perfect running form, but there are ways to optimize performance and prevent injury with good posture and proper stride.
Good posture or column building: Your back and head should be straight and facing forward with your ears over your shoulders, and your hips, knees, and ankles should be in the same plane.
- Arms should hang loosely at your sides: Your arms should hang comfortably and move forward and back in tandem with your stride.
- Land lightly on the outside of your foot with your ankle bone high: Land on the outside of your foot and maintain the arch in your ankle – your leg forms a bow shape as it gets ready to transfer the energy or propel your forward.
- Swing leg – Lift off with your heel out: When your foot comes off the ground and during swing, your heel should be pointed outward and not inward. This helps to propel energy forward and prevent valgus stress on the knee (knock knee) and ankle (pronation), both of which have a high rate of injury.
- Run with rotation: Humans do not run in a linear movement; our innate movement pattern is rotary. Our hip has a ball, and socket joint is built for rotation. As you propel forward, your hip slightly internally rotates to assist.
- Lead with your hips: The hip should initiate the running motion instead of your feet as they are the center of your body. This helps prevent overstriding.
- Avoid overstriding: Overstriding occurs when the foot lands well ahead of the knee. Over-stride causes increased stress on your heel and other joints.
(Learn More about Improving Your Running Form)
4. Muscle Tightness & Weakness
Stretching promotes flexibility and is required to keep you limber, especially after any increase in mileage or intensity of running. The increase in your training will cause a breakdown. As the microtears in your muscles heal, they also tighten, and the muscle becomes shorter. If the muscle heals in a shortened position, it can alter proper running mechanics, and the muscle and soft tissue will be more prone to injury. Stretching only takes 5-10 minutes and allows the muscle to heal with the proper length and resilience. Stretching also helps the muscles warmed-up and cool down by increasing their blood flow. Increasing blood flow before a run is helpful, but after is even more beneficial since it speeds up recovery and reduces lactic acid build-up from more challenging runs.
Muscle weakness and imbalances can also harm your running form and make you more prone to injury. It is common for runners to have weak abdominals and posterior (glut, hip, hamstring) compared to the anterior muscles.
5. Lack of Cross-Training & Strength Exercises
Add strength training to your weekly schedule.
A brick house is better than a straw house when it comes to withstanding a storm. Similarly, strong muscles, tendons, and ligaments hold better form and protect the body against impact. In the battle against injury, a runner’s best armor is a strong body.
The stronger you are, the more efficient your muscles fire, which enables you to run with greater control and stability. The stronger your muscles, the less likely they will break down. Strength training will help to increase your muscle tone. Plyometrics or jumping help increase your elasticity or the power in your tendons and reduce the impact on landing.
Only 15 min of body weight exercise or light weight training is needed to improve your speed and reduce injury (3x/week).
Strengthening your core muscles will help improve your running form and reduce injury due to fatigue.
Participate in Cross training – the most important thing! (Another physical activity outside of your primary sport. Ex: cycling, elliptical,
If you are prone to injury or feeling a little tweaked – cross-training is a lifesaver. Alternate between days and avoid consecutive days of running.
6. Running surface:
Sudden change or new running surface can cause injury. Many runners run on concrete. This hard surface is not forgiving, but our bodies gradually accommodate stress, so as long as you progressively build, your body will adapt, and your bones will become stronger and withstand this hard surface. It would be best if you also were cognoscente of road camber or the way the road slopes on edge to allow water run-off. If you always run on one side of the road, your leg closer to the road will be high and the other lower. This uneven stance causes an imbalance and can eventually cause injury.
Trail running is not as hard on our joints but does impact our ankle integrity. Trails will improve your balance and proprioception as you must have excellent ankle reaction force to navigate the uneven ground. But again, if you are not used to trail running, you need to be more cautious with the uneven ground.
Both wooded trails and concrete have positive impacts and need to be gradually accommodated.
7. Worn Out Footwear:
Ensure that your sneakers are not worn out and cause your foot to land incorrectly. Every 350-600 miles or every six months, you should replace your sneakers if you run regularly. When shoes are worn, they can cause you to slip on wet surfaces, but more importantly, if they are compressed on one side, they will cause your foot to cave in. For example, if you are pronated and land more on the inside of your foot, the inner part of your shoe will wear down, further increasing the amount of pronation.
Your sneaker should fit your biomechanics. Specialty-running-store assessments are helpful but not foolproof because you rely on the salesperson’s knowledge. The best advice is to go by comfort. Generally, the sneaker that feels best has the right amount of firmness that is correct for you. If you have discomfort after you’ve run in a pair of shoes, it might be a sign you’re in the wrong ones. If your shoe feels good, it’s likely a good one for you.
Common Running Injuries:
IllioTibial Band Syndrome (ITB)