Decrease Your Risk For Running Injuries This Season

OK, let’s just get it out there – distance running has a higher injury rate than almost any other sport. In fact, a recent Dutch study, in which more than 700 marathon participants were surveyed about injuries suffered during the process of training for the event and within the marathon, found that nearly 55% of respondents reported suffering at least one running-related leg injury within the preceding year, and 18% developed an injury during the event itself.Now, the Rotterdam Marathon is not run through hot coals with wild dogs chasing you. These same results have been found in various other similar studies. So, why is running so hard on the body, and what can be done to prevent you from becoming a statistic?Probably the single greatest factor in running injuries is repetition. Think about the number of strides per run, per week, and then throw in a few biomechanical inefficiencies, and you have a recipe for overuse injuries. “But wait”, you might say, “swimmers and cyclists seem to have the same predisposition to overuse injuries – why are my swimming buddies not hurting as much as I am?” It all comes down to impact forces, and impact forces do not affect all tissues of your lower body equally. As you can probably guess, the areas of greatest susceptibility to injury are the tibia (shins), Achilles tendon, and the knee.So, given the statistical likelihood that you will suffer some form of lower extremity injury this year, what can you do to save yourself? The simplest solution would be to run less and run on softer surfaces, but if I told that to my runner patients I would be out of a job. Here is the recipe for pain-free running: run with the most efficient gait possible, and train your running muscles. While there are a million tips for better running, most experts agree that you should run with a high cadence and strike on your midfoot. This is how I train my runners, and it’s more efficient and safer, period. Shoot for a cadence of around 90 per foot strike per minute. This will force you to take shorter steps, and will result in you striking on the midfoot instead of the heel. Training the running muscles will take more work, and probably some time in the gym. The key will be to focus on the hip muscles (gluteus medius in particular), which will help prevent excessive dipping of your hips, which has been linked to most running injuries of the lower extremity. (See my Shin Splints article for some great exercises for the hips).Understanding that we are each unique in our running technique, mileage, and intensity, paying attention to your running cadence and training your running muscles in the gym can help decrease your risk for injury and make for a better running season.