Physio Talk: Load Management Is The Key To Preventing Running Injuries

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rsz_4derek_griffin_1Chartered Physiotherapist, Derek Griffin, on how to prevent running injuries

Running continues to grow in popularity with recent studies showing that as little as five to ten minutes of running per day results in significant health benefits.

However, approximately 27% of novice runners will report an injury within the first year after starting running. The most common injuries include “shin splints”, knee pain and bone stress injuries.

1. “Too Much Too Soon”

Progressing the training too quickly is the main cause of running injury. Our body tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones) are in a constant state of breakdown and repair/strengthening depending on how much work they have to do.

“Too much, too soon” and/or inadequate rest and recovery will favour breakdown of the tissue and result in pain and injury. Therefore progressing training gradually is the key to injury prevention.

The frequency (how often we run) as well as the volume (mileage) and intensity (speed) all need to be progressed very slowly. Rest is an essential part of this process and is essential if the tissues are ultimately to become stronger.

This is especially important for novice runners who will need to include more rest days initially until their body adapts to the training loads.

Including cross training (cycling, swimming etc.) in your running programme can be a great way to remain active while at the same time giving the tissues the relative rest that they require.

2. Other factors that affect tissue load

Apart from training factors, our running biomechanics (“form”), muscle strength, terrain and shoes can all affect how much load we put through the different body tissues.

It is advisable for runners to vary training surfaces and running shoes regularly in order to vary the loads placed on different body structures. In addition to this, strength training is a crucial component of any training programme but unfortunately many runners leave this out of their programme.

3. The bigger picture

Finally, how well our muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones adapt to training will depend on many other factors. These include sleep, other medical problems (diabetes, high cholesterol levels etc.), weight, nutrition, medication and genetics.

Therefore good sleeping habits, a balanced diet and effective weight management together with good general health will all be very important in helping to prevent injury.

The implications of this mean that runners who may be overweight, experience sleeping problems or have poorer general health will have to progress their running more gradually in order to reduce the risk of injury. Everyone is an individual and a “one size fits all” programme is never recommended.

4. Summary

In summary, keep it simple! Monitor your training loads and progress gradually. Consider incorporating cross training and strength training into your running programme.

Sleep well, eat well and keep your general health in check. Finally, despite common belief, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that routine stretching, foam-rolling or running shoes/insoles prevent running injuries.

Getting the basics right can go a long way to keeping you on the roads and can save you money in the long-term!

Dr Derek Griffin is a Chartered Physiotherapist and academic with expertise in the management of chronic pain disorders and running-related injuries. He holds a PhD in Physiotherapy, which was funded by a prestigious scholarship awarded by the Irish Research Council. He is currently working as a lecturer in Physiotherapy at the University of Limerick and consults at Tralee Physiotherapy Clinic on a part-time basis. He can be contacted by telephone at 066-7128863 (Clinic tel no.) or by email at

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