Reducing the Risk of Running Related Injuries – Jake Connolly AEP

If you run regularly, you would know hitting the road can take a heavy toll on your body. 50% of runners experience an injury each year that prevents them from running. A systematic review published in 2021 showed that the top 5 most common Running-Related Musculoskeletal Injuries (RRMIs) are:

  1. Achilles tendinopathy (10%)
  2. Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome “shin splints” (9%)
  3. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome “runner’s knee” (6%)
  4. Plantar Fasciitis (6%)
  5. Ankle Sprains (5.8%)

How can we reduce the risk?

Runners love to run… and injuries are very frustrating!

To reduce injury risk whilst running, there are two key variables to consider: Load & Capacity

A load that is greater than a PERSON’S current capacity can increase the risk of injury

If the running load (i.e. Mileage, Volume, Intensity, Frequency & Terrain) exceeds a person’s current capacity, this may lead to a potential injury. Therefore, if we can increase or capacity and manage our load within, we can help to reduce the risk of running related injuries.

Capacity Management: How can we improve our capacity?

  • Regular resistance training can Increase the capacity within your body’s tissues. Participating in regular progressive resistance exercise can help develop a stronger, more resilient, and robust runner! If you are unsure where to start with resistance exercise as a runner, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist can help guide you with education and exercise to guide you towards your goals.
  • Run on a regular basis: To help improve our running capacity, we should also train with specificity. Regular exposure to running and the demands it places on our body can help better prepare us for more running!

Load Management:

  • Mileage and volume: Increase gradually and slowly. With apps like Strava becoming increasingly popular, runners can get caught up in focusing on distance as the key factor in training progression. It is commonplace for people to increase their weekly kilometres by 10% per week. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are other factors to look at when increasing your training towards a goal. These include duration, intensity, frequency, terrain, elevation, other training, life stresses, and training history.
  • Recovery: As well as monitoring your training load and focusing on a gradual progression, it is important to consider the role that recovery and rest has on injury risk reduction. For our tissues to recover and adapt they need sufficient time between exercise bouts. This time frame varies depending on the person. As well as time between sessions, it is critical to look at your sleep and nutrition habits as these are integral to the recovery process.
  • Intensity: Most people’s ‘easy’ isn’t easy enough & most people’s ‘hard’ isn’t hard enough.  There isn’t any strict rule with this, and more research needs to be done in this area, however most importantly this should be individualised to the person. Some people may have heard of the 80/20 principle which was developed by Stephen Seiler, an exercise physiologist at the University of Agder in Norway. This approach looks at 80 percent of running at low intensity with only 20 percent at hard, high efforts, which may be an appropriate place for some to start but not everyone. Going all out, every time is a straightforward and ‘easy to gauge’ approach for a lot of people, however this approach will likely increase fatigue and lead to capacity exceedance when done repeatedly, which could then increase the risk of injury. Try breaking up your training with more slow, low intensity and longer duration runs with a few high intensity fast runs in the mix.

If you’d like help managing your load as a runner, this is something that can be discussed with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to help you to determine the right balance between too much and not enough.

Reducing the risk of running related injuries can be important for runners to help them reach their goals, whatever they may be. However, injuries do happen and setting expectations about being a pain free runner are unrealistic and detrimental. There are also many unknowns and factors out of our control that contribute to all injuries, and it is important to also be prepared for them – physically and mentally. Preparation includes accepting that injuries will occur and are not an indication of failure, accepting the set- back as a learning opportunity to come back stronger and smarter and gradually exposing our body to new positions, loads and situations. If you are struggling with an injury or pain, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist can help you reach your goals and get you where you want top be.