RUN – Better, Faster, Stronger

Do you aspire to be the kind of runner who breezes through every mile without any discomfort? Imagine not experiencing any stiffness, sharp pains, or the persistent soreness that often follows a tough run. You’re certainly not alone in this wish. Studies indicate that up to 79% of runners experience an injury at least once a year. Pause and think about that statistic: nearly eight out of every ten runners at your next event might have been, or will be, sidelined by an injury this year.

Envision running discomfort as a spectrum. On one end, there’s the “red zone” of serious injuries, like stress fractures, which necessitate a break from running. On the opposite end is the “green zone,” where you’re performing optimally. Minor, fleeting pains that annoy you one day but vanish the next are closer to this green end. Regrettably, many runners find themselves perpetually in the “yellow zone” — not fully injured, but far from peak health. Staying in the green largely hinges on your initial reaction to any pain. Sometimes, a brief rest or a slight decrease in your running intensity and distance, coupled with appropriate treatment, can prevent prolonged downtime later. Developing a consistent, proactive approach to injury prevention, including strength exercises, stretching, regular massages, and foam rolling, is crucial. Think of manual therapy like necessary homework: it may not be enjoyable but neglecting it can lead to problems down the line.

So, what triggers running injuries?

While various theories exist about the causes of running injuries, the act of running itself is often highlighted as the primary culprit. Studies have confirmed that “engaging in running is the only essential cause for Running Related Injury (RRI).” Beyond this, risk factors are manifold. Previously, much attention was given to intrinsic factors such as leg length differences, pronation, high arches, or the shape of the knees, and extrinsic factors like the need for specific types of running shoes or stretching routines. However, recent research suggests no single factor directly causes or prevents injuries. Although there is some evidence supporting the injury-reducing benefits of warm-ups, compression garments, acupuncture, and massages, these factors present a complex, multifaceted set of potential contributors to running injuries.

One well-supported factor is training error. It’s estimated that 60 to 80% of running injuries stem from training errors. These occur when runners push their bodies beyond what their tissues can handle without sufficient recovery time. Tissues that receive poor blood supply, like ligaments, tendons, and cartilage, are particularly vulnerable because they adapt more slowly to increased physical demands. Several factors, including a high Body Mass Index (BMI over 25) and a history of previous injuries, especially within the last year, can affect how much training load a runner can handle before getting injured. While a high BMI and past injuries might limit your running capacity, strength training can enhance it. Growing evidence supports strength training’s role in reducing injury risk and boosting performance. The relationship between training error and injury risk is intricate — it’s not just about the total mileage, but also how quickly and intensely this mileage increases, including hill and speed workouts. The adage “too much, too soon” often holds true. Understanding the main causes of injuries is your first step towards a healthier running season.

What are the most common injuries to watch out for?

Muscles and tendons undergo daily stress and repair, from regular activities to sports. An overuse injury typically starts when a tissue doesn’t repair quickly enough, initially breaking down on a microscopic level and eventually leading to more significant damage. The first sign of discomfort, stiffness, or pain doesn’t necessarily mark the beginning of an injury.

The most prevalent injury among runners is the ‘runner’s knee,’ or patellofemoral pain syndrome, accounting for over 40% of all running injuries. This is closely followed by plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinopathy, iliotibial band syndrome, shin splints, and hamstring strains. These conditions often require significant rest or at least a reduction in training intensity. Treatment typically involves manual therapy to aid tissue healing and improve mobility. Underlying muscle weakness or flexibility issues, which often accompany these overuse injuries, need targeted rehabilitation exercises to address.

While general advice is available, specific issues often require tailored attention. If you encounter an injury, including any tightness, irritation, or niggles, seeking treatment early often yields the best outcomes.

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