A Surprising Way To Reduce Your Risk of Running Injuries
Here is an article recently posted on active.com that very neatly explains what I try to tell all my patients who want to run without injury. There is a great deal of misinformation out there regarding what technique, shoewear or training program is best to reduce injury but there is simply no substitute to running in preparing the body to run. It seems logical but you’d be surprised how many people still continue to tell you that running is bad for your body. If you’re smart about it and gradually increase your mileage you place yourself in a much better position to avoid overuse running injuries.
Recent research argues that running a lot is a more effective way to train for maximum running fitness and minimal injury risk. A 2013 study by Danish researchers found that among 662 runners training for a marathon, those who ran less than 30K per week were injured more than twice as often as were those who ran 30 to 60K per week. Those who ran more than 60K were not injured any more often than were those who ran 30 to 60K per week.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine and Sport reported that within a group of 517 recreational runners, those who ran the least were injured most often. Other studies have produced similar findings.
As Durability Rises, Injuries Fall
Why do runners who run more get injured less? There are two main reasons. One is that running alone develops the specific kind of durability that makes the body resistant to running-related injuries. All of the strength training and technique drills in the world won’t match the toughening effect of actual running.
This was shown in a 2012 study by researchers at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands. A sample population of 432 novice runners was split into two groups. One group went through a four-week pre-conditioning program designed to reduce injury risk before proceeding onto a nine-week running program. The other group jumped straight into the nine-week running program. Injury rates were the same in both groups.
Compare these results to a 2014 study conducted by Mitchell Rauh at San Diego State University. Rauh compared summer training patterns against autumn injuries in a sample population of 421 high school cross-country runners. He found that athletes who ran eight weeks or fewer suffered significantly more injuries during the first month of the cross-country season compared to athletes who ran more than eight weeks.
The lesson of these two studies is clear: in order to minimise the risk of running-related injuries, you need to build durability. Only running itself builds the kind of durability that prevents running-related injuries. Drills and strength training just don’t cut it.
Running Form Matters
Running more also leads to subconscious changes in running form that reduces stress on the lower extremities. Many runners don’t realise that their stride evolves as they gain running experience. These subconscious changes in movement patterns are far more subtle than the crude changes runners make a conscious effort to improve such as switching from a heel landing to a forefoot landing – although it is important you get your running technique assessed prior to starting a running program.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst recently studied the biomechanics of “low-mileage” (less than 15 miles per week) and “high-mileage” (more than 20 miles per week) runners. They identified several consistent differences in the biomechanics of the two groups that “may explain the lower incidence of overuse knee injuries for higher mileage runners.”
The key characteristics of the high-mileage runners’ biomechanics were subtle and complexly coordinated—too subtle and complex to be consciously controlled. A low-mileage runner cannot fast-track the development of these characteristics by doing form drills or consciously copying the form of other runners. The only way to develop them is to run more. This is where it is important to work with your sports podiatrist or running coach to ensure your starting technique is sound.
Here’s the catch: While runners who run more get injured less, runners are never more likely to get injured than when they are increasing their mileage. So newer runners run a greater risk of injuring themselves as they increase their mileage to the level that optimises their fitness, durability and form. Few runners are able to get through this process without suffering at least one overuse injury.
Injuries are not the end of the world. Each one teaches you something that you can use to avoid future injuries. You can minimise the risk of injuries as you increase your mileage by responding quickly and aggressively to unusual pains you experience in training. Dealing with incipient injuries right away will prevent them from becoming full-blown breakdowns that cause you to miss significant running time.
This approach can be a bit frustrating at times because it requires a willingness to take on step back in order to progress two steps forward.
But it’s better than the alternative of being too afraid of high mileage to even try, because despite what some experts contend, there is no substitute.