Is Your Injury Caused by Pace or Distance?

Study categorizes the most likely contributor to common running injuries.

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You've probably heard that many running injuries stem from "training errors," or increasing mileage or intensity too quickly. Is it possible to fine-tune that admittedly broad diagnosis? Is it possible to categorize running injuries by whether distance or speed is the more likely culprit?

Danish researchers think so. Writing in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, they analyzed 2,002 running-related injuries described in other studies. Their goal, using clinical and biomechanical information on the injuries, was to look for underlying commonalities in the training of the people who had the injuries.

For about half of the injuries, the researchers found no such commonalities. Among these were medial tibial stress syndrome (AKA shin splints), and hamstring, hip adductor, and iliopsoas injuries.

For the remaining half, however, the researchers felt confident in classifying the injury as related to training volume or training intensity.

According to the researchers, the common knee injuries of patellofemoral pain syndrome (AKA runner's knee), iliotibial band syndrome, and patellar tendinopathy are related to training volume, not intensity.

In contrast, the common lower-leg injuries of plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and calf strains are related to training intensity, not volume, the researchers say. As the researchers note, these injuries are more common in competitive runners who do a higher percentage of their mileage at a fast pace than they are in recreational runners. The faster running, such as 400-meter repeats on the track, places greater strain on the tissues of the feet and lower legs than does easy running.

Do these categorizations matter beyond a well-that's-interesting conclusion? Potentially. After all, when many runners ramp up their training, such as when pointing toward a marathon, they increase mileage and intensity simultaneously. This study suggests that if you have knee problems while doing so, you may have upped your mileage too quickly. Conversely, if your knees are fine but your calf, Achilles or plantar fascia start hurting, your body may be okay with your mileage increase, but isn't yet ready to handle the increased intensity.


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