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lab lounge blog

Injury Prevention For Runners: Is Running A Safe Activity?

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

Running group enjoying an outdoor run. Diverse demographic of runners

Injury prevention for runners is a big topic and many variables can come into play. Running can be an enjoyable activity for most ages and fitness levels. In fact, runners often have healthier joints than inactive people and it has been observed that recreational running volumes reduce the risk of hip and knee osteoarthritis. This is a benefit of frequent loading which strengthens the cartilage in these major joints. One of our favourite sayings around the clinic is “motion is lotion” and movement strengthens bone and muscle while keeping cartilage lubricated and cushioned.

Running injuries are most commonly related to failures in the body’s tissues including the bones, muscle, tendons, and ligaments, and often manifest in injuries such as patellofemoral pain (front of knee pain), IT band (outside of knee pain), or Achilles injury.

The most common cause of injury is an error in training load. When we talk about training load, we are typically referring to training frequency, intensity, or duration. If an error in training load exists, injuries can take 3-6 weeks to manifest. This means that you may not realize your tissues aren't able to support the demands placed on them until you are several weeks into a new training program. When runners are beginning a new training program or upping the ante on a current program, it is always important to listen to your body and respond to the signals that it sends. While training, a small degree of pain or discomfort is to be expected. We recommend adhering to a 24-hour rule. If pain persists past 24 hours or gradually increases, seek the expert advice of a physiotherapist or kinesiologist to avoid serious setbacks due to injury.

Common Running Related Injuries

At the clinic, when an injured runner comes to us, we tend to see one of the following 3 injuries: patellofemoral pain, IT Band, or injury to the Achilles tendon. Glutes, or butt muscles, experience 2-3 times bodyweight force (BWF) for each stride while running, quadriceps, or thigh muscles, experience 4-6 times BWF, and calf muscles experience a whopping 9-11 times BWF for each stride! Considering the amount of force experienced by muscles that move the hips, knees, and ankles, it makes sense that these muscles and joints would have the greatest risk of potential injury. Don’t worry, our bodies are designed to handle it, we just need to progress responsibly.

How To Avoid Training Load Injuries

Our body tissues need to be able to meet the demands being placed on them and load management starts with being realistic about where you are today as a runner or walker. Modifying the distance, frequency and intensity of your workouts so that your progression is gradual will prevent straining the tissues to the point of injury. Runners tend to train consistently at a moderate intensity with their distance and frequency remaining the same. This leads to injury when tissue stress begins to compound without sufficient opportunity for the tissues to unload and recover. Adhering to an 80/20% training load, where 80% of your weekly runs are easier (ie. slower pacing, shorter distance, or longer rest intervals) and 20% are harder (increased speed, longer distance, or shorter rest intervals) creates a progressive load that your tissues can adapt to while allowing for enough recovery time to avoid injury.

What Can Be Done To Prevent Running Injuries?

Incorporating exercises that strengthen the major muscle groups involved with running and walking such as the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves will help prevent injuries by increasing the body’s load capacity. These fantastic strength training exercises will enhance your training program and help to increase that load capacity. Give them a try!

Our 24-hour rule of thumb applies here. Additionally, If the pain changes your gait pattern or if you are experiencing pain that is increasing and persisting, you should seek help from your healthcare practitioner. It is also recommended that if you have a previous history of injury and are new or restarting a training program, you should be assessed by your healthcare practitioner to identify potential risk factors. Early identification of possible tissue failure can go a long way toward speedy recovery, or even avoiding injury altogether.

What to Expect When you Visit your Physio or Kinesiologist?

Our physios will want to understand where you are today and what your goals are. They can help you tailor your running training to fit your needs as well as assess muscle strength and provide you with exercises that will make your body strong and keep you running!


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