09 Jul How to Prevent Injuries While Running
in Performance Hub
If you run regularly, you would know hitting the road can take a heavy toll on your body.
In fact, 50% of runners experience an injury each year that prevents them from running.
While you can experience a “runners high” moment, most runners will tell you it not all glory. There are aches and pains that come with it and running injuries can range from minor to major pains and hinderances, which is why its important to understand the best prevention strategy.
A systematic review published in 2021 showed that the top 5 most common Running-Related Musculoskeletal Injuries (RRMI’s) are:
- Achilles tendinopathy (10%)
- Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome “shin splints” (9%)
- Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome “runner’s knee” (6%)
- Plantar Fasciitis (6%)
- Ankle Sprains (5.8%)
While running injuries are common, there are ways you can help prevent these injures to help keep you running healthier and longer.
We spoke with an expert:
Exercise Right spoke with Accredited Exercise Physiologist and host of The Stronger Stride Podcast, Sophie Lane.
Sophie’s Podcast aims to share value on topics surrounding training, nutrition, injury prevention, and mental strategies to not only improve your performance but enhance your life.
Now, we know that runners love to run… and injuries are very frustrating! So, if you want to keep running, it’s important to minimise your risk of injury as much as possible. In order to do this there are two key variables to consider:
(Mileage, Volume, Intensity, Frequency & Terrain)
(Strength, Recovery, Mobility & Flexibility)
Load > Capacity = Injury
When you exercise, particularly if it is something new or more than you have done before, the tissues being used begin to break down. Then, they undergo a process of repair and rebuilding in order to be better prepared for the next bout of exercise. If the load is too much i.e. a sudden increase in mileage or too many back-to-back runs without enough rest, the rate at which the tissues break down will be faster than the rate of repair. This may lead to inflammation, degeneration, pain, and potential injury.
Your muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones must have the capacity to handle the load and be able to repair and rebuild faster than they are broken down.
Mileage and Volume:
70-80% of RRMI’s are caused by overuse (doing too much, too soon or too often). This leads to degeneration in the muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones as they are unable to handle the required load. As runners, we can be particularly stubborn when it comes to injuries as we just want to keep running. If we can get our training and recovery right, we should ultimately be able to run further and faster.
When you first start running, or start training for a specific race it can be very easy to get carried away in the initial stages. It is important that you consult a health professional or running coach to assist you in developing an appropriate progressive running program. This is to ensure that you increase your mileage gradually and at a rate that your body can handle in order to minimise risk of injury.
With apps like Strava becoming increasingly popular, runners can get caught up in focusing on distance as the key factor in training progression. It is a commonplace for people to increase their weekly kilometres by 10% per week. Unfortunately it’s not that simple. There are other factors to look at when increasing your training towards a goal.
These include duration, intensity, frequency, terrain, elevation, other training, life stresses and training history.
The key factor in progressing your training is progressive overload. This means making gradual increases to your training each week for 4-6 weeks, followed by a recovery or deload week. This will allow you to progress your training and increase your fitness while still minimising injury risk.
As well as monitoring your training load and focusing on a gradual progression, it is important to consider the role that recovery and rest has on injury prevention. In order for our tissues to undergo the rebuilding process, they need sufficient time between exercise bouts. This time frame varies depending on the athlete.
For a beginner this may mean having 1-2 rest days between hard training sessions, but for an elite athlete this may be more like 8-12 hours. Again, this is something that can be discussed with a accredited exercise professional in order for you to determine the right balance between too much and not enough.
As well as time between sessions, it is critical to look at your sleep and nutrition habits as these are integral in allowing recovery processes to occur and will give your body the best chance to stay strong and healthy. A sports dietician can help with specifics of which foods are best for you but as a general guideline it is important that you are consuming appropriate amounts of protein, water and electrolytes.
Increasing the capacity within your muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones will ensure your tissues are robust and strong enough to withstand the frequent impact loading required by long-distance running.
There are a number of ‘go-to’ rehab exercises that allied health professionals often use in order to reduce pain, improve strength and ultimately help to eliminate the injury. To me, it makes sense to incorporate these movements into a year-round strength and conditioning program in order to assist in minimising the risk of injury, rather than just implementing them once an injury occurs.
Here is an example exercise to ‘prehab’ each of the top 5 most common running-related injuries that were mentioned earlier:
Seated Calf Raise:
Tendons rely on heavy, slow resistance training in order to get strong. Start with a weight that you can handle for 10 reps and gradually increase the weight, focusing on a slow and controlled movement.
Poor ankle mobility has been linked to shin splint risk so a good way to improve this is stretching your calves.
Paused Goblet Squat:
Squatting with good technique is great for improving strength around the knees. Hold for a few seconds in the bottom position to increase the time under tension.
Take your shoes and socks off and let your toes move! Standing barefoot, see if you can lift your big toe up without moving your other toes. Then repeat by lifting your other toes up, keeping the big toe down. Play around with some movement here.
Single Leg RDL:
Being stable on one leg is critical for running as we don’t spend any time with both legs on the ground.
Mobility and Flexibility:
In order to be a good runner you don’t need to be able to do the splits, but you should have enough range of motion to allow you to complete an ‘optimal’ gait cycle without restriction. Adding some simple mobility drills into your warm up will help you loosen up before a run and may reveal some tight areas that need further work. The main thing that you want to look out for is any significant differences between sides. For example if your left hip flexor feels much tighter than the right then spend some more time on the left.
Three great drills to add in to your program are:
- 90/90 hip rotations
- Dynamic hip flexor to hamstring stretch
- Deep squat hold
WANT HELP FROM A PROFESSIONAL?
An Accredited Exercise Professional can assist you by guiding you through an individualised, safe and evidence-based exercise program to “bulletproof” your workouts. Get in touch with your local exercise expert today by clicking here.
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Written by Exercise Right staff.
We have partnered with Nike Australia Pty Ltd for this article series.
The views expressed in this article, unless otherwise cited, are exclusively those of the author, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA). ESSA is a professional organisation committed to establishing, promoting and defending the career paths of tertiary trained exercise and sports science practitioners.
Nike had no role in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of data or research or the writing of this article.
Kakouris, N., Yener, N., & Fong, D. (2021). A systematic review of running-related musculoskeletal injuries in runners. Journal Of Sport And Health Science. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2021.04.001