Are you at risk of a running injury?

Running is one of the most popular, and easiest, ways to get fit. Consequently, a running injury can occur commonly, at any level of fitness or athletic ability.

With many factors involved in the causes of injuries, there are a few ways to reduce the risk of harm. The more common running injury is associated with overuse, with the knee being the most frequent culprit. A history of a previous injury is perhaps the biggest risk of further injury, especially if recovery is incomplete. Greater mileage (as in total distance run, not age!) is also a risk factor. Interestingly, the possibility of injury decreases over the age of 40, possibly as those prone to such injuries have already sustained them and no longer run.

Although I’ll cover specific injuries in later blogs, the more common injuries include patellofemoral pain, shin splints (or medial tibial stress syndrome), Achilles tendinopathy, ilio-tibial band syndrome, and stress fractures of both the metatarsals and the tibia.

Despite the number of runners in the world, and the large number of studies done, there is remarkably little conclusive evidence regarding causes of running injures, and treatments – largely because of the many variables are involved. There are possibly as many beliefs as there are styles of training, but, as in most areas of life, a common sense approach prevails.

Reducing the distance run, the frequency and the intensity of training may reduce the risk of a running injury. Most studies (which usually involve male subjects) suggest running over 65 km/week increases the rate of injury. Abrupt changes in a training schedule are another possible cause – such as dramatically increasing the distance, speed, or even the number of inclines. The type of running surface is important – a smooth, even, reasonably soft surface is best. Using a treadmill may decrease the risk of tibia stress fractures.

There is also a strong link in women between bone health and fracture risk – a low BMI (body mass index), irregular or loss of periods, and a low bone density (including low vitamin D and calcium intake) is associated with an increase likelihood of sustaining a stress fracture.

Adequate nutrition is important for runners of both sexes. Although many run to lose weight, a poor, and calorie deficient, diet increases the chance of injury, but delays recovery – which can in turn lead to further injury. Inadequate caloric intake also causes loss of muscle mass and fatigue.

Running shoes are now a major industry – long gone are the days of Dunlop volleys serving for everything. Perhaps the best advice: if it feels good and fits your foot, it’s probably a good shoe for you. Shoes should have good shock absorption, and provide both stability and cushioning for your foot. One thing to bear in mind; studies show shoes lose up to half their cushioning effect after some 500 to 800 kms.

If possible, run in the shade, and time your run to avoid the heat of the day. Always wear sun block, glasses and a hat or cap to shade your face. A progressive joint preservation plan is best to avoid injuries and improve fitness. For beginners, start with a combination of walking and running, and slowly increase your running time. And, especially in the heat of an Australian summer, ensure adequate hydration.

Happy running!