It’s finally summer, and that means glorious runs outside — through parks, across trails and paths, along riverbanks, city walkways, and paved streets. Of course, more opportunities for running come with an increased risk for running injuries. Only rarely do dedicated runners avoid this risk. However, with a slight change to the way you run, you can up your chances of preventing running injuries and keep yourself out where you want to be: hitting the pavement.
The #1 Cause of Running Injuries
A study from The British Journal of Sports Medicine recently looked into the major causes of most running injuries. Writer Gretchen Reynolds outlines the key details in an article for the Sun Herald. Specifically, the study addressed runners who had never been hurt to find out what they were doing differently from runners who suffered injuries. They look at a factor called impact loading, which is the force of a runner’s feet as they hit the ground, as well as exactly what part of the foot takes the brunt of the impact (for instance, some runners land on their heel, while others might favor the middle of the foot).
Runners who have similar body types and weights surprisingly can experience widely varied impact loading. Researchers wanted to know if differences in impact loading might correlate with higher risk for injury.
For the study, 249 female runners (recreational, not professional) who all struck the ground dominantly with the heel were chosen. They filled out questionnaires about their history of running injuries, and their impact loads were measured with special force monitors. Then, for 2 years, the runners kept running logs and injury diaries.
Only 21 of the runners reported zero injuries, and additionally had a history of zero previous injuries – an incredibly rare phenomenon in the running world. Unsurprisingly, the researchers were especially interested in this group. They decided to compare the impact loads of these runners with another group of runners in the study who had reported being seriously hurt while running.
Prevent Running Injuries by Stepping Lightly
As it turns out, the runners who had never been injured while running had smaller impact loads than their counterparts – they were stepping much more lightly as they ran, and this rang true no matter their differences in size or weight. The consensus of the study, then, was that how hard you land when running can determine your risk for injury. Land harder and you’re more likely to get hurt. Land lighter, and prevent injury from running.
Tips for Runners
Some people believe that runners cannot land lightly if they’re heel-strikers, but the study refutes this, as all of the women who landed lightly were heel-strikers. For those of us who do not land lightly naturally, you can change your impact load if you are mindful about it. Here are a few tips from an expert who led the study about how to change your running habits and thus prevent running injuries:
- As you run, concentrate on landing softly. Think about how an insect skims over water. Imagine yourself running on that surface. You have to land lightly or sink.
- You might also consider concentrating on landing nearer to the mid-foot versus the heel. Some runners will naturally land more lightly this way.
- Increasing the cadence of your run might also help with landing lightly. Take more steps per minute, which might reduce the impact of your stride.
- If all else fails, imagine you’re walking on eggshells or a similarly fragile surface – whatever captures your imagination and helps your legs and feet to cooperate.
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