Don't Let Overuse Injuries Ruin Your Running Season

Spring is in the air and summer running stoke is high. After a long winter dreaming of the racing season, you’re finally able to dive into a hard training block for your upcoming event.

Then you notice a nagging pain. You push through it for few days, and then it doesn’t just hurt when you run but when you walk as well. Eventually, someone notices you wince getting up from the couch. “I’m fine, just stiff,” you say. But in reality, you’re suffering from an overuse injury.

Tendons, ligaments and muscles adapt to training stress gradually over time. And as you adapt to training, you need to increase the training load to continue making progress but it’s a double edge sword. Increasing volume or intensity too rapidly can lead to overuse injuries. Overuse injuries often occur in the early season, when the trails are dry and the sun is out because athletes ramp up their mileage to soak up the beautiful weather and prepare for upcoming races.

Not this year. Here’s how we’re all going to avoid early season overuse injuries. We’ll start with some simple, basic information.

What is an Overuse Injury?

Overuse injuries often result from mechanical fatigue when tendons, ligaments, muscles and other soft tissues are overworked and don’t receive adequate recovery.

Some example of overuse injuries in endurance athletes are IT-Band syndrome and patella or Achilles tendonitis. Overuse injury don’t occur from one training session alone. They typically result from repetitive trauma to tendons, bones and joints.

How to Prevent Them

The 10 Percent Rule

A general rule of thumb in endurance sport is to not increase training load more than 10% week after week. For athletes who’ve trained throughout the winter or have a lifetime of miles logged supporting a solid base, this might be a bit conservative. It’s hard for athletes to tell what’s too much or just right on their own. Working with a coach can help you build volume safely without having to be too conservative.

Warm up

Warmups should vary depending on the length and intensity of training sessions. For shorter runs, a warmup lasting only 10 to 20 minutes is sufficient. A more intense training session may require a slightly longer warmup though. The jury is still out on whether stretching – dynamic or static – reduces the likelihood of tendonitis. But you can’t go wrong by increasing blood flow to working muscles through a warmup routine.

If you don’t have time to incorporate some dynamic stretching, starting your run with a ten minute slow jog or walk to give the muscles a chance to limber up and reduce injury risk.

Good Pain vs. Bad Pain

Building mileage means muscle soreness and even uncomfortable stiffness. That’s just part of the game. If you’re adapting well to the training, soreness or pain will be gone after a day or two, and you’ll have the energy for a high-quality workout later in the week. Pain that remains relatively constant throughout a workout, (even if it lessens a bit after a good warmup) is a sign you’re pushing beyond your body’s ability to recover. If you’re thinking about pain continuously through your run, it’s probably time to back off.

Pay Attention to Mechanics

Poor technique or running form are significant causes of tendonitis injuries, particularly in repetitive motion intensive endurance sports. Act fast when you suspect something’s wrong. Addressing the problem quickly can often prevent it from becoming a chronic injury.

Dealing With Injuries

If you’re an endurance athlete trying to meet important training or racing goals, visit a physical therapist when symptoms of an overuse injury arise. Treatments such as dry needling and acupuncture may help symptoms and specific exercises can accelerate recovery and prevent injury down the line.

And when you’re ready to get back to training, work with a running coach or biomechanics expert to assess your running form and create a training plan.