As a recently injured runner I wanted to write a blog on various issues to do with injuries. Unfortunately I am sure that it is a topic that many readers are all too familiar with but there are some common causes we can identify to try and limit the chances of injury occurring.
Why do runners get injured?
To give a bit of background on my own running, I have experienced both sides of the injury spectrum. From when I started running properly and competing back in 2006, I must have missed less than 10 total days running through injury. Invariably this would just be random bumps and bruises leading to the odd day off, and at no point during this decade did I ever suffer from a ‘real’ injury.
People told me I was lucky to avoid injury, but having never suffered from one before; I was rather blasé about what that really meant.
However, I was soon about to find out. Since 2015 when I injured both achilles in a track 10,000m, and especially over the last 18 months I have had a tough time trying to stay healthy.
Numerous achilles issues of varying severity, as well as a torn soleus have meant that since December 2015 I have spent almost as much time not running as I have running. The consequences of this are many missed races including consecutive London Marathons, many hours of cross training, lots of general frustration, and an expensive medical bill trying to solve the problems.
It is still very much work in progress of trying to find a solution. Below are what I have found some of the common causes of injuries within running to be.
A fairly straightforward cause of injuries is inappropriate footwear. This can include either running in a pair of shoes long after they are worn out, or just selecting the wrong pair in the first place.
For example, wearing ultra light weight racing flats for everyday running may not be something too many runners can endure. It is also important to make sure that runners are not wearing shoes that fundamentally compromise what they need.
As an example, a runner with a neutral foot plant should not need support shoes. Any good running retailer will be able to help you get this right.
For a detailed guide on how to choose the right shoes for road running, check out this post.
One of the major causes of injuries to runners comes from tight muscles. When muscles get tight, they either don’t function properly or have to compromise in some way, often leading to extra strain.
Running big volumes will invariably lead to muscle tightness, but it is how this is dealt with that is the important thing. Regular massage, rolling, stretching, icing, acupuncture: Take your pick of the methods out there to help reduce tightness.
Mechanical issues / weaknesses
I find this to be the most complex area of injuries, and it is certainly what I am looking at moving forward. Sometimes injuries can come about as a result of inefficiencies in a runners stride or posture. It can cover anything from the position of the foot strike to head movement and is often very hard to spot to the naked eye.
This is usually where you would go to an expert for help such as a high level physiotherapist or biomechanical specialist. The expert will then hopefully identify weak areas that need strengthening, as well as a number of very specific exercises that will help.
The consequences of biomechanical problems can vary and sometimes will only occur when a runner is very fatigued or at the end of a very tough race or training session. Using my own running as an example, I actually feel like my running form is better now than it used to be before any of the injuries, however there must still be deficiencies and weaknesses in my mechanics now that are causing strain on the achilles, as this is where the injuries have been occurring.
System overload: If you try to ask the body to do something well beyond its capabilities then it is probably going to rebel. Significantly increasing the quantity and / or quality of training and competing, then you may well run into difficulties.
Overtraining poses many risks: general tiredness, illness, loss of concentration, as well as exaggerating any other weaknesses or vulnerable areas. Checking what your training volumes are with a coach is an obvious way to prevent this from happening.
Realising that you are over-training can be an issue in itself. Check out this post to see if you can spot this bad habit before it leads to disaster.
‘I run lots, I can eat what I want.’ Whilst this may hold truth in that you are unlikely to become overweight if you run regularly, diet certainly plays a large part in the overall health of a runner.
The rigours of running will place demands on the body that sedentary individuals do not have; increased need for carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals etc, and if these demands are not met then the risk of injuries such as stress fractures will only increase.
Nutrition for performance is a topic in itself and is not touched on here.
Due to the sheer number of days and hours that runners spend outside on their feet, the risk of being victim of an injury that can be labelled as ‘bad luck’ is actually quite high.
This would include things like twisting an ankle, falling over, a collision with a cyclist, getting bitten by a dog etc. Whilst it is never possible to completely eliminate the risk of these types of injuries from happening, there are ways to reduce it.
Obvious things like not running with loud music in your ears, allowing space when running in groups, or not picking particularly muddy / slippery loops during the winter will all help.
Good levels of balance and strength can also save you from rolling ankles.