Eight things that can cause a running injury

Injury need to not be an inevitable part of your running. Find out the common causes of running injury so that you can better avoid them.

Aside from the pain of a running injury, there is always the frustration of not being able to run and seeing all your hard-earned training gains going to waste. However, avoiding a running injury is possible, provided you take certain precautionary measures and are vigilant.

It is quite a common scenario for your running training to be going really well so that you feel you are making real progress — only to be struck down by an injury. Once unable to train, you will feel all your hard work over the preceding months is starting to be undone.

But is it really? Thousands of runners will identify with this scenario, and you could be forgiven for thinking that you will be back to square one when you are able to resume running again. However, there are many positive steps that you can take to speed up your running recovery and help you maintain muscle strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness, so that you can return to your previous running distances sooner rather than later.

Assessing your running injury

The enforced period of rest or reduced training that follows an injury is the time when you should take the opportunity to assess how and why you picked up an injury in the first place. Evaluating the reasons for your injury will not only help in treating the injury but also in making sure that the injury does not recur.

Causes of running injuries typically include:

1. Too much running too soon

Running involves a repetitive action, with the same motion repeated thousands of times during each run session. This can lead to overuse injuries. Additionally, if too rapid an increase in mileage is involved, this can increase the chances of an injury occurring. As a general rule, you should avoid increasing your total weekly mileage or the maximum distance of your longest run by more than 10 per cent. This will allow your body to adapt to the increased stresses it is being placed under.

2. Too fast too often

Faster paced running places the body under greater stress due to greater surface impact and and the muscles stretching further with increased stride length and faster cadence. The 10 per cent rule can be applied to faster runs, whereby your fast quality sessions (excluding warm-up and cool-down ) do not exceed 10 per cent of your total weekly mileage.

3. Too little recovery time between runs

Improvements from training occur not during the training session itself, but during the periods of rest when the body is recovering. Training fatigues and stresses the body, and it is during rest that it repairs and rebuilds itself, adapting to cope with the increased load you are placing upon it. Skipping rest days and recovery sessions denies the body a chance to repair, and may set you off on a road towards injury.

4. Running surface choice

Different running surfaces impact on the body to varying degrees. Running off-road challenges the body's balance and coordination far more than road running because of the unstable surfaces you are running on. This places more demands on the knees and ankles and can lead to muscle and tendon pulls. Equally, running solely on surfaces such as concrete and tarmac can lead to conditions such as shin splints or overuse injuries. The best solution is to vary your running surfaces and introduce any changes gradually.

5. Supplementary training (eg, gym work and Pilates )

Committed runners will often do more than just running, in an effort to improve. Sports Pilates and resistance training can be beneficial to a runner, but it is easy to do either the wrong training or the right training incorrectly. A good example would be a runner building up leg strength in the gym. If they were to concentrate solely on their quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh ), this could lead to an imbalance between the strength in the quadriceps and the hamstring muscles, which eventually could result in hamstring pull. This is why I provide sample gym workouts with appropriate exercises so that they complement your running.

6. Incorrect running shoes

Novice runners will often sustain an injury due to having incorrect shoes for their running gait (the way in which their foot lands ). All runners should seek out specialist advice from a running shoe specialist, who can advise on the best footwear choices for their type of foot and foot movement.

7. Lack of flexibility and core stability

Lack of flexibility and poor stability accounts for a large percentage of running injuries. Tight, inflexible, muscles are very much like an elastic band that has not been stretched for months — try to stretch it too far too fast and the likelihood is that it will break. Poor movement at the hips and excessive movement at the back and knees is a recipe for disaster with overload of passive structures such as plantar fascia, Achilles tendon, calf or shin problems, knee, hip, or back complaints. Our sports Pilates class is designed to get you working the muscles you neglect so that it takes pressure off these passive structures of the body.

8. Race events

Racing can be a risk to runners because their competitive edge kicks in. In a race situation, runners will push themselves harder than in a training run, so frequent competition can increase the likelihood of sustaining an injury, especially if insufficient recovery time is allowed between races. The solution is not to over-race and always allow enough post-race recovery.

As a physio I have a lot of guides to help people in particular with leg pain and low back pain. If you hear anyone complaining about this, then email me on [email protected] and I will send you my book on back pain or guides on knee or leg pain to give to them.


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