Running is the most common form of Physical activity undertaken by the novice exerciser. People run simply just for fun, or because they want to become fit, lose weight or maybe just to burn off any extra stress that’s weighing them down.
It is one of the most practical forms of exercise because it doesn’t need fancy equipment or a membership. It just needs motivation! The health benefits of running include the reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. Just to name a few. Being a realist though, the more exercise you perform the higher your risk of sustaining a musculoskeletal injury will be. There is nothing more deflating than finally making that commitment to start a running program and a few weeks in you succumb to an injury and all that motivation is lost.
What you might find surprising is the risk of injury due to running is quite high. It sits between 20-40% and if you had a running injury the year before, then your risk of subsequent injury (same or different injury) the following year is 50% higher compared to someone who didn’t have an injury. The majority of injuries from running (50-75%) are due to overuse and occur from the knee down. These numbers could come across as daunting so it emphasises the need to evaluate your risks in an attempt to reduce them. Then you can continue to run and ride the wave of motivation you have jumped on.
The assessment of risk is multifactorial with two main categories of risk; intrinsic (personal) and extrinsic (environment). Intrinsic factors may include age, sex, body mass index (BMI), previous injury, running experience and anatomical alignment. Extrinsic factors consist of running distance and frequency (training load), running surface and running shoe (age and type). To add to the confusion, a lot of the research in this field shows conflicting results. This just demonstrates that reducing your running injury risk is not a pure science with a common protocol. It requires a meticulous approach with a unique understanding of your own quirks and individuality. Understand you will never eliminate all risk, just address the modifiable risk factors, have alternatives and be adaptive.
One of the unmodifiable risk factors stated here is running experience. People with less than three years experience were 2.2 times more likely to suffer a running related injury. So this makes it sound like you are doomed from the start. Don’t get discouraged, the whole point of this approach is to assess all risk factors, modify the ones you can and accept the ones you can’t. Some of the most consistent factors, throughout the current research, which were associated with an increase risk of a running related injury, were actually modifiable. These included running distances per week, frequency per week and BMI. Let’s take BMI for example. Runner’s with a BMI over 27 are at a high risk of injury, which right there is many people’s first road block. One of the main motivations to start a running program is weight loss! So some advice to help modify this risk may be to enforce a stricter diet a few of months prior to starting your running program, and instead of only running maybe utilise other training modes which don’t have BMI as a high risk factor for injury (ie: cycle and swim). The dieting and alternate ways of exercising can assist in lowering your BMI and then you can implement a more running based exercise program.
Don’t let the risk of injury stop you, reflect on the overwhelming positive effects exercise will have on your body. This blog is about preparation. The better prepared you are at the start, the less likely you will hit a roadblock, fail and then give up.
Take the harder road earlier, visit a health professional and together assess your intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors. Knowing these you can tailor your approach to this new found exercise and reduce your risk of injury.
-Physio & Co in collaboration with Richard Christianson (Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist)