Love it or hate it, running is great to boost your stamina and strengthen your lower body. Despite its many benefits, however, the stress that running places on the body over time can eventually lead to fatigue and injuries, especially for diehard runners who log lots of miles. Research estimates that as many as 79 percent of runners will be injured in a year, and up to 70 percent of these will be recurrences.
Many are overuse injuries, attributed running subjecting the body to repeated impact forces of 1.5 to 5 times and individual’s body weight. This repetitive stress can be exacerbated by improper form, poor mechanics, anatomical variables and pre-existing weaknesses. Common overuse injuries include shin splints, runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome), plantar fasciitis, piriformis syndrome and iliotibial band syndrome.
Running More Softly Reduces Risk of Overuse Injuries
A recent study published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise indicated that running more softly can reduce risk for overuse injuries. It noted that runners who land each footstep with more force are more likely to sustain an overuse injury than those who land more softly. In fact, another study demonstrated that runners with high loading rates were at a three-times greater risk of developing an injury than those with low loading rates.
In the study, researchers used real-time visual feedback to re-train 19 runners to land with less force. After just eight sessions, the runners demonstrated a change in mechanics to run more softly, and these changes were still evident at a one-year follow-up. The conclusion was that reducing impact loading through gait retraining is a powerful method of decreasing musculoskeletal injury risk in runners.
Additional Ways to Manage Impact
Today’s runners have several ways to lower their impact and run softer. In addition to gait retraining, runners can take advantage of the following to better manage chronic high-impact and decrease the risk of overuse injuries:
- Vary surfaces – Regularly hitting the pavement means that you’re taking on a lot of force. Consider incorporating sessions on a trail, indoor or outdoor track or treadmill to cut back stress and add variety. These changes can help you run better overall by adapting to different conditions and challenges.
- Run in the pool – Because water reduces the gravitational pull on your body, pool runs are a valuable way to keep your legs moving without being subject to additional pounding.
- Try new tools – Equipment like the Zero Runner from Octane Fitness provides an outstanding way to train using your natural gait, stride and pace – but without impact as you suspended on the machine’s pedals. It’s NOT an elliptical, and it’s NOT a treadmill, but a realistic alternative to standard running. Elite coaches and Olympic competitors, like Alberto Salazar and Paula Radcliffe, swear by its value.
Another terrific option is the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill that unweights a portion of your body weight so you can run more softly. The downside is that it’s prohibitively expensive to buy for home use and hard to find in health clubs. You’re more likely to access one in a physical therapy clinic.
- Prioritize recovery – No matter how you do it, running is still hard on the body, so capitalize on the many options today to take care of yourself and enhance recovery.
Always stretch and use your foam roller. But also experiment with other recovery methods, including massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, hydro therapy, cryotherapy and hyperbaric chambers to see which works best for your body. Practicing regular recovery is a smart way not only to help prevent injury, but also to keep you running stronger and longer.