Almost Half Of Recreational Runners Get Injured, According To Research

It should go without saying that running is a high-impact sport. So if it seems like you and your running buddies are constantly taking turns battling injuries—big and small—you’re not alone: Nearly half of all non-professional runners sustain injuries, according to research by Jonatan Jungmalm, Ph.D., in the Department of Food, Nutrition, and Sport Science at the University of Gothenburg in Germany.

As part of his doctoral dissertation, Jungmalm recruited more than 200 recreational runners between 18 and 55 years old and monitored them over a one-year period. ‘To take part in the study, they had to have been running for at least a year, have run an average of at least 15 km [9.3 miles] per week over the past year and have been injury-free for at least six months,’ Science Daily reported.

He found that 46 per cent of these runners reported injuries over the course of a year, and the most common locations were the knee—accounting for 27 per cent of all injuries—and the Achilles tendon and calf area, representing about 25 per cent of all injuries.

Those with a previous injury were almost twice as likely to sustain a running-related injury as those without one, according to a result of Jungmalm’s that was published recently in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.

Also, newer runners tend to have higher injury incidence rates, Jungmalm told Runner’s World. He added that previous research indicates that running-related injuries seem to be the biggest reason that recreational runners quit.

Also not part of the research was whether any specific strategies helped minimise injury risk, but physical therapist Carol Mack, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., owner of CLE Sports PT & Performance, told Runner’s World that risk factors include mismanagement of training load, experience, and biomechanics.

With training load, many recreational runners track mileage, Mack said, and while that’s helpful, it doesn’t give a full picture of true load. Mileage is external load, but it doesn’t measure the body’s physiological response to a run, known as internal load. For that, you’d need to be aware of intensity, heart rate, and level of fatigue. For example, Mack said, think about a 10K run done on tired legs at a fast pace versus fresh legs at a slow pace. The distance is the same, but each workout feels different and has distinctive effects on the body.

‘In Jungmalm’s work, it’s noted that four injuries occurred during a single session that was rated with the highest intensity, or a pace-related injury,’ Mack said. ‘There is some evidence out there that higher intensity workouts are associated with injury occurrence. Therefore, recreational runners should understand that intense, pace-related workouts like tempo runs or speedwork can be very taxing on the body.’

She added that it’s best to consult with a coach about how to best incorporate them into your training, and it’s very important to give yourself enough rest and recovery after those workouts.

Experience is also a factor, and as the research indicates, newer runners have higher injury rates. Mack said this might show up as not knowing when it’s okay to push through pain versus when it’s not, or not knowing how fast or far to take some training runs.

The biomechanics factor means paying attention to proper form, said Mack. For those who experience repeat injuries, this might be a major factor, and she added that running gait retraining may help.

If you seem to always be getting injured, it’s best to consult with professionals—a running coach, sports medicine physician, physical therapist, etc.—to nail down the reason why and what you can personally do to stay healthy.

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