There’s literally nothing worse than being an injured runner. I’ve been there, many times in fact, so I know this to be true. But what constitutes a true injury and how do they come about in the first place? Let’s discuss.
Though I’m a running coach and I’ve been through my fair share of running-related injuries, I am not a medical professional. Please seek medical care if you are questioning a potential injury.
Are You An Injured Runner? Three Causes of Running-Related Injuries
Am I Injured?
First we must answer the question “am I injured?” Here are a few scenarios to consider: if an ache or a niggle doesn’t dissipate through the duration or a run, changes to a painful sensation instead of just a niggle, or if the ache/niggle alters your gait, you’ve likely entered the injury-zone. Even if you feel you can run through said sensation, it’s best to stop your run if it’s changing the way you run at all. I can say this with confidence as I foolishly ran a marathon moderately injured which ended up turning into a severe injury of my IT band. I was down and out for three weeks following the marathon. Not awesome.
What Caused My Injury?
If you’ve determined you’re injured, there are three main causes of running-related injuries.
1. Biomechanical issues.
Biomechanical abnormalities such as arm swing, inappropriate footstrike, low cadence, overpronation, and oversupination (to name a few) can all contribute to a higher risk of running-related injury. If something doesn’t feel right, a couple of things can be done if a biomechanical issue may be present. First, you can have your gait analyzed. Running coaches are capable of making this analysis, as are sports medicine facilities, and even some running stores. Having a gait analysis performed will help nail down any issues that may be causing your aches or pains.
Secondly, you can go to your local running shop to get fitted for appropriate footwear. Say you just started running and your shoes are a pair you snagged at the sporting goods store. They might actually be really nice shoes, but they might not be a great fit for your feet and your gait. It’s best to get fitted by the pros.
Third, seeking medical advice or adjustment from a sports-focused chiropractor can help immensely with any potential injuries. If you don’t have access to a sports chiropractor or you have a more severe injury, seek medical attention from a sports medicine physician.
Injuries that stem from biomechanical issues can include: stress reactions and fractures, ITBS, plantar fasciitis.
2. Too much, too soon (aka not following your training plan).
Another cause of running-related injuries is doing too much, too soon. I’ve had runners do this in the past and it almost always ends up badly. It is one of my biggest pet peeves not only as a coach but also as a friend. Take this example: a former runner, after taking off a couple months of running, thinks he/she is ready to run 5 miles out of the gate. I’ve got news for you — if you haven’t run one single mile in several weeks and decide running 5 miles is a great idea, it’s going to wreak havoc on your body. Not only will you be incredibly sore the following day, but you’ll likely sustain an injury or two. Taking one or two, even three, weeks off is one thing. Taking off months is another.
This can be even worse for newer runners: those that are just learning to run and those that have only been running a year or two. Running is a lifelong sport if we let it be but we must respect the process and we must respect the distance.
Doing too much, too soon is a recipe for disaster regardless of your running history. If you hired a coach, please follow their training plan they created for you. It was written as such for a reason. Don’t be an injured runner when it’s completely avoidable.
Injuries that come to mind in this category are: ITBS, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, runner’s knee, tendinitis, and a slew of other aches and pains.
3. Stuff we’re born with.
Other times, sometimes we’re just born with “stuff” — or things develop over time that are completely out of our control. I’m actually going through something rather nerve-racking right now — my chiropractor is almost certain I have something called FAI (femoroacetabular impingement). It’s not uncommon and both my coach and my chiropractor suffer from it as well. But just because it’s not uncommon doesn’t make it a fabulous affliction. I’ll be going in for X-rays to confirm diagnosis this week. But basically, FAI is something I could never control even if I wanted to. It would explain a lot of my injury issues and discomforts over the last 15 years — which is both fortunate and unfortunate.
FAI is just one example of “stuff” that could affect running and injures. There are lots of other things that could impair your running or even present as a running-related injury. The thing to do in this situation?
- Accept the things you cannot change and have the courage to change the things you can.
- Work closely with caregivers and medical providers so that you can enjoy an active life while staying safe and healthy.
- You don’t have to be an injured runner for the rest of your life. You will find a way to make it through.
Injuries in this category include things like FAI, arthritis, ITBS.
How Can I Stay Injury-Free?
There are lots of ways to stay as injury-free as possible. The two biggest things to focus on are cross-training and strength training. Cross-training is great to work similar muscles you use while running while reducing impact. Cycling, pool running, and the elliptical are all ideal options. If you choose to cross-train in lieu of a running day, be sure to keep the duration and intensity the same as you would if you were running.
Additionally, strength training is key for runners. Focusing on hip mobility, strong abs, glute power, and hip stabilization will ensure your form is where it needs to be to keep your body safe. Things like lunges, squats, lateral leg lifts, and planks are great to work those running muscles. Make a conscious effort to doing these types of exercises and you should be in good shape.
Sometimes we get injured regardless of what we do/don’t do. Things happen. Life happens. But the thing to do is to keep moving forward. Do what you can with what you have.
For the things we can control, however, don’t do anything foolish. Keep up with your strength training and maintain a strong running form. If your coach wrote you a plan, follow it. Don’t get yourself into a precarious situation because you’re trying to make up for lost time or have something to prove. Trust me, it’s not worth it.
What’s one thing or exercise regimen you do to stay injury-free?
Have you caused yourself injury in the past?
Linking up with Wild Workout Wednesday.