It is estimated that between 50-75% of running-related injuries are caused by overuse. You may be wondering if “overuse” simply means running too much… and that can be part of it. However, there’s a lot more to consider than just your mileage. We will go through and discuss each of the primary issues that runners face. Then, we will discuss how to best minimize injury risk while maximizing the benefits of running.
Primary issues that runners face:
Many times, when people begin an exercise regimen they start with multiple exercises all at once. Examples being: running, cycling, weight lifting, yoga, etc. A rapid increase in activity level, or even adding running on top of a pre-existing workout routine, can set you up for injuries. The human body adapts to the stress that is being routinely applied, but this process occurs over time. A beginner who starts with running 15-20 miles per week can result in the inability of the human body to keep up with the stress being applied and start to break down.
The same applies when increasing mileage. Typically, runners should aim for increasing their mileage very slowly. Ideally, a 10% increase per week (maximum) will allow the body to adapt to the increased load. Additionally, the intensity of runs should vary, with only 20% of your total running time being at a high intensity. This will help prevent overtraining and make you a more efficient runner.
Ignoring Strength & Conditioning
The amount of impact you sustain with each step during a run can exceed upwards of 2.5-3 times your body weight. The musculature in the lower leg can reach levels as high as 6-7 times body weight. Runners need to have the adequate strength and power output to handle this level of force over the length of a run. Strength and conditioning can help improve load tolerance, running efficiency, and reduce the risk of injuries. Spending 1-2 days per week focusing on strength training can help keep you running.
Improper Running Mechanics
Most new runners have likely never had a gait analysis conducted aside from maybe the brief analysis for a shoe fitting at a running store. There are several common running mechanics deviations that can contribute to injury risk, especially with increases in mileage. Because your legs experience up to seven times your body weight with each step, problems with your lower extremity alignment, running cadence, foot strike pattern, etc. can lead to injury.
There is a notion that the impact of running causes knee pain or can worsen pre-existing arthritis. This myth needs to be addressed when starting a new running program as it has been conclusively shown that runners have less arthritis in their knees than non-runners.
General life psychological stressors play a large role in healing. Work stress, poor diet, and lack of sleep have been shown to delay healing by up to 60%! Imagine trying to start an intensive running program when your body is recovering at only half the rate it typically should. Making sure you get enough sleep and have good coping strategies with the day-to-day stress we all experience can help!