There is nothing more upsetting to a runner than suffering an injury. Weeks, months, and even years of training and fitness can be jeopardized by a slip on the ice, a turn of the ankle, or a chronic overuse injury. As runners get closer to their goal race, a paranoia starts to build. Here are some simple ways you can avoid injury and stay sane.
According to the Harvard Gazette, between 30 and 80 percent of all regular runners are injured in a given year. The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation narrows it down a bit more, reporting that nearly 70 percent of all runners will become injured. Let's think about that for just a second. Seven out of every 10 runners are suffering from injury on an annual basis. Chances are, if you're a runner, you'll be injured, too.
The most common running injuries are those caused by repetitive movements and stresses on the joints and tendons. You may recognize some of these more frustrating running injuries.
Pain near the kneecap, especially after sitting for extended periods of time with knees bent or while walking down stairs or downhill.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
Pain or aching on the outside of the knee, usually occurring in the middle or at the end of a run.
Pain occurring in either the front or inside portions of the lower leg.
Pain that begins as a mild ache in the back of the leg or above the heel after running.
The pain is most noticeable when the foot flattens during weight-bearing or when pushing off with the toes during walking or running, and it is usually located near the heel.
Causes of Running Injury
There are two main causes of running injury: structural imbalance and training volume. Both can lead to injury, and many times the cause of the injury is not easy to diagnose. For example a foot problem can cause a problem in the knees, hips, or back. Finding, and treating, the cause of a running injury is the job of a trained expert.
Structural imbalance occurs when the body is misaligned, or when a certain muscle group is weak and requires other muscle groups to compensate. Structural imbalances can be caused by physical attributes like uneven leg length or severe overpronation of the foot. These physical problems will cause running injury unless diagnosed and treated.
The body adapts to stresses and becomes stronger. This is the basic principle of training. But, if you push too fast or run too far, you can stress the body in such a way that it never has time to fully recover and weakens instead. Training progression and temperance are the keys to avoiding overuse injury.
5 Ways to Avoid Running Injury
- Prepare your body for running by walking. If you're a new runner, or returning to running after a long hiatus, you'll want to start slowly and condition your muscles with a regular walking program. Cross-training activities like swimming, rowing, or cycling will help with the cardiovascular aspect of running. But, walking will strengthen the muscles, joints, and tendons where running injury often occurs.
- Understand your body type and be patient. For every pound of weight a person carries, they have four pounds on the knee when running. In other words, if you weigh 180 pounds, there are 720 pounds of force on the knee with each foot strike.
- Follow a sensible training plan or find a coach. Your training plan should consist of mostly easy days. The progression of a decent training plan accounts for rest in daily, weekly and monthly cycles. Remember that a generic plan is nothing more than a good suggestion. You can, and should, deviate from the plan if your body is sending you signals that something isn't right. If you're lucky enough to have a running coach, communicate openly about any concerns you have.
- Wear the right shoes. There are all kinds of shoes out there. Find a pair that feels good on your feet and compliments your running style. Replace your shoes when they no longer feel good. Specialty running stores can help you find the right type of shoe, but always ask about their return policy.
- Practice injury prevention. Always warm up slowly for 10 minutes before running. Do some dynamic stretching before your runs and some static stretching after your runs. Foam roll tired muscles before and/or after runs. Ice and elevate any potential injury spots as soon as you feel them. Incorporate some strength training in your weekly routine to help strengthen your core and stabilize your body to prevent injury.
Seek the advice of medical professionals before your injury stops you from running. And, most importantly, listen to your body and recognize the signs of overtraining so that you can avoid running injury.
Jason is an experienced distance runner, RRCA certified coach, and editor of SaltmarshRunning.com