Causes of running injuries generally can be classified into five categories:
- Direct trauma (ankle sprains)
- Inflexibility (tightness of tendon, iliotibial bands, hamstrings, etc)
- Weakness (inadequate strength, endurance, or neuromuscular capability in key muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings, calf, shin).
- Biomechanical instability (pronation or supination).
- Training errors (too much running, too fast, on the wrong terrain, and with the wrong equipment).
RUNNING ON CAMBERED ROADS
Cambered roads are most often seen in rural areas, where runners love to train. A cambered road is high in the center and slopes toward the sides. The problem is compounded by the practice of facing nearside traffic for safety reasons - which keeps the right leg in the 'downhill' position at all times, causing a 'terrain-induced leg-length discrepancy' as well as a tendency to overpronate on the outside leg (left leg) and oversupinate on the inside leg (right leg). This produces increased strain on the iliotibial band and peroneal muscles of the right inside leg and on the medial knee and posterior tibialis muscle on the left leg. The remedy is simple: run on roads without a camber or, when running on cambered roads, keep whenever safe on the crown or at least alternate sides.
RUNNING IN URBAN AREAS
Many runners train in urban areas, which provide well lit paths. The problem is that the pavement is usually hard concrete with numerous kerbs and slants at gateways - the runner constantly has to step up and down. Shin splints, patellar tendonitis, and stress fractures are common among those who run regularly on such terrain. The remedy is to avoid as much as possible running on footpaths with many kerbs.
RUNNING ROUND IN CIRCLES
Running around a track forces the feet to overpronate on the inside leg and oversupinate on the outside leg. Excessive pronation and inward rotation of the tibia that follows are common causes of injury, especially to the medial shin (tibialis posterior muscle in particular) and knee.
The solution is to do warm-up and cool-down runs along with interval jogs clockwise in an outside lane and the specific track workout - intervals and speedwork - anticlockwise.
RUNNING ON HARD SURFACES
Hard surfaces have traditionally taken much blame for running injuries, as proven by the number of shoes on the market with shock-absorbing properties. Hard terrain tends to be more injury-inducing in high-arched and inflexible runners with poor ability to absorb shock anatomically.
Running on somewhat softer surfaces and in shoes with superior shock-absorption helps, but one should be careful not to change to an excessively soft, unstable surface.Do 65 percent or more of your training on soft surfaces (trails, park, grass, forest) and the rest on road and track.
While hill training is an important part of the competitive runner's workout schedule, excessive time on hills or an abrupt increase in hill time are injury risks. Climbing places increased demands on calf muscles in terms of both strength and flexibility and may induce calf or Achilles strain. Remedies are to gradually increase hill time and grade and maintain flexibility in Achilles tendon and calf. Downhill running is also stress inducing because it increases shock upon heelstrike and strains muscles, especially the quadriceps, which are forced to function eccentrically upon footstrike. Excessive descending should be avoided; flexibility and strength should be maintained in the quadriceps and tibialis anterior (shin).
GETTING SHOES WRONG
Today's runners have endless choice in shoes, with new materials and components designed for comfort and injury prevention. I am often asked what is the best running shoe and my answer is always the same: 'There is no one shoe that is Number One.'
Companies make shoes for various biomechanical problems. As a rule, shoes are designed on a last and there are three recognized lasts: straight, semi-curved, and curved.
(a) A straight-lasted shoe is filled in on the inside or medial part, increasing stability for the foot with a flat arch or the runner who excessively pronates.
(b) A semi-curved shoe is designed for the average foot. The small curve is the optional platform for the majority of runners. Some companies reinforce the medial rear section with dual-density material to limit pronation.
(c) A curved last is designed for those with high arches, the ridged high-arched foot, and those who underpronate or over supinate.
Obviously if you buy an expensive shoe and it is the wrong shape for your foot you are likely to get injured. As for changing shoes, my advice is to change into new shoes every 400 miles. This is, however, a general guideline as some runners wear shoes out rapidly while others are light on them.
Most runners increase mileage too quickly. This frequently happens in spring, when the race season seems to arrive suddenly and runners are preparing for the first race.
It's natural to up mileage as the evenings get brighter, but to avoid Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and other overuse injuries, the increase must be gradual. To allow muscles and connective tissues respond to the increased workload, follow the ten percent rule: increase mileage by no more than a tenth each week.
INCREASING TRAINING SPEED ABRUPTLY
Another springtime danger is increasingly the speed of running too quickly. As runners eye the racing season they start thinking speed. Many jump straight into track workouts, only to have their season postponed by a pulled hamstring.
Athletes must be aware of the prerequisites of running fast: a good training base, warm, thoroughly stretched muscles, and strong joints and connective tissues.
IGNORING BODY SIGNALS
Runners often train in a disciplined regimen, sometimes at their own expense. They frequently play the slave to their training logs. If Sunday calls for a 20 miler, that's what they do. While a distance base is the key to the distance runner's training programme, athletes err when they become obsessed with mileage and stop listening to the 'telltale signs', the fatigue and strain the body is feeling.
Athletes should tune into their own bodies and on a day when the legs are excessively sore or the body is heavy and sluggish cut down training or even take a day off.
DOING THE SAME OLD THING
Running is the most important activity for a runner. Too much of the same, however, can lead to trouble. Several days of hard running in succession may lead to overuse injuries. Runners need to balance their training by alternative hard and easy days to allow muscles and joints recover from vigorous workouts.
Add variety to your training; avoid doing the same sessions week in week out. The athlete who does the same 8x400m on the same course every week can easily become bored, lose motivation, and go stale. Above all, enjoy your running and have fun!
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