Learn how to be injured

Most recreational athletes would definitely prefer not to be injured, they may not be doing a great deal to ensure this, but they’d rather this was the case. It is improbable. If you commit to an athletics based sport (sometimes for a lifetime) then it is highly likely, if not guaranteed, that at some stage you will sustain an injury…. and sustain is the key word here. Let’s talk mainly running….  the majority of what are termed “running injuries” are non-traumatic. Their primary cause is some form of sustained dysfunction or stress within the body rather than a traumatic insult such as a fall, twist or impact with a car/falling tree/dog etc. Much of this sustained and chronic dysfunction is avoidable.

The problem is pain. That seems obvious, until you drill down into why. Think of pain as an end product… it is the outcome of a process. It is a symptom and not a cause. But for our runner it is almost exclusively what they deal in. I have a phrase for this… “the problem is pain, but until its painful its not a problem”. This is why runners “sustain” injury… they wait for the pain, and in many cases they actually nurture it, and of course when it’s finally bad enough it stops them running. Only then do some look for the cause.

Pain will stop runners, but this list of provocative factors and common responses is often overlooked.

  • Lack of mobility/flexibility… “do I need that just to put one foot in front of the other?”
  • Lack of stability… “Sounds complicated and I’d rather be running”.
  • Poor technique… “I never watch myself run, or try not to anyway”.
  • Lack of foundation strength… “I’m a runner not a weightlifter.”
  • Fatigue and poor recovery… “I have to do the 7 miles tonight cos it’s on my schedule”.
  • Bad advice… “I’ll run through that.”

The best way to look upon this list is as a recipe… sling a few of the ingredients together and you will soon cook up some pain.

I also like to look upon this as a list of “energy leaks”. Everything on it will sap performance and chip away at potential. Pain and poor performance come hand in hand. Of course the solution is to attend to the list with smart “off track” training and preparation and you may become a more resilient and efficient athlete. Nobody can promise that you will be injury free, but you have a chance that you will be less injury prone.

However, there is one important omission from the list of contributors to running injury.

During my work with groups of young athletes, academies and coaches I preach that all athletes, in any sport need to “learn how to be injured”. Do not fight, ignore or trivialise what is almost certainly inevitable but be honest with yourself… or as it has been put many times… listen to your body . Do not let a tightness become a niggle, and then brew it up into an ache, and finally grind it into a pain. Intervene early in this cycle. At academy level the young athletes are taught to report these issues to the relevant staff as soon as possible. The recreational runner doesn’t have this option, they need to be honest and respect their own body awareness!

The conclusion on this is simple. Sort out the list, train smart and listen carefully to your body’s feedback and you will run faster and stay fitter longer. As Michael Johnson said; “working harder is not always the answer, but working better almost always is.”

Bob Wood MCSP, Physical Solutions