Avoiding running injuries
Injury need not be a part of your running
Aside from the pain of a running injury, there's always the frustration of not being able to run and seeing all your hard-earned gains going to waste. However, avoiding a running injury is possible, provided you take certain precautionary measures and are vigilant.
It is quite a common scenario for your running training to be going really well so that you feel you are making real progress — only to be struck down by an injury. Once unable to train, you'll feel all your hard work over the preceding months is starting to be be undone.
But is it really? Thousands of runners will identify with this scenario, and you could be forgiven for thinking that you'll be back to square one when you are able to resume running again. However, there are many positive steps that you can take to speed up your running recovery and help you maintain muscle strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness, so that you can return to your previous mileage sooner rather than later.
Assessing your running in injury
The enforced period of rest or reduced training that follows an injury is the time when you should take the opportunity to assess how and why you picked up an injury in the first place. Evaluating the reasons for your injury will not only help in treating the injury but also in making sure that the injury doesn't recur.
Causes of running injuries typically include:
- Too much running too soon.
Running involves a repetitive action, with the same motion repeated thousands of times during each run session. This can lead to overuse injuries. Additionally, if too rapid an increase in mileage is involved, this can increase the chances of an injury occurring. As a general rule, you should avoid increasing your total weekly mileage or the maximum distance of your longest run by more than 10 per cent. This will allow your body to adapt to the increased stresses it is being placed under.
- Too fast too often.
Faster paced running places the body under greater stress due to greater surface impact and and the muscles stretching further with increased stride length and faster cadence. The 10 per cent rule can be applied to faster runs, whereby your fast quality sessions (excluding warm-up and cool-down) do not exceed 10 per cent of your total weekly mileage.
- Too little recovery time between runs.
Improvements from training occur not during the training session itself, but during the periods of rest when the body is recovering. Training fatigues and stresses the body, and it's during rest that it repairs and rebuilds itself, adapting to cope with the increased load you are placing upon it. Skipping rest days and recovery sessions denies the body a chance to repair, and may set you off on a road towards injury.
- Running surface choice.
Different running surfaces impact on the body to varying degrees. Running off-road challenges the body's balance and coordination far more than road running because of the unstable surfaces you are running on. This places more demands on the knees and ankles and can lead to muscle and tendon pulls. Equally, running solely on surfaces such as concrete and tarmac or asphalt can lead to conditions such as shin splints or overuse injuries. The best solution is to vary your running surfaces and introduce any changes gradually.
- Supplementary training (e.g. gym work).
Committed runners will often do more than just running, in an effort to improve. Resistance training can be beneficial to a runner, but it is easy to do either the wrong training or the right training incorrectly. A good example would be a runner building up leg strength in the gym. If they were to concentrate solely on their quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh), this could lead to an imbalance between the strength in the quadriceps and the hamstring muscles, which eventually could result in hamstring pull.
- Incorrect running shoes.
Novice runners will often sustain an injury due to having incorrect shoes for their running gait (the way in which their foot lands). All runners should seek out specialist advice from a running shoe specialist, who can advise on the best footwear choices for their type of foot and foot movement.
- Insufficient flexibility.
Lack of flexibilty accounts for a large percentage of running injuries. Tight, inflexible muscles are very much like an elastic band that hasn't been stretched for months — try to stretch it too far too fast and the likelihood is that it will break. Regular flexibility work will help keep your body in balance, your muscles pliable and loose and also ensure that your range of motion is not compromised.
- Race events.
Racing can be a risk to the runner because their competitive edge kicks in. In a race situation, a runner will push themselves harder than in a training run, so frequent competition can increase the likelihood of sustaining an injury, especially if insufficient recovery time is allowed between races. The solution is not to over-race and always allow sufficient post-race recovery.