The Number One Cause of Injury in Most Runners That Come to Our Clinic

Dave O’Sullivan | January 17, 2020

When we first started our clinic our first location was a room above a running shop, so naturally we treated a lot of runners. Every year, from January to April, our clinic is full of runners training for races in the spring – especially marathons! Most of the running injuries that we see can be attributed to the same root cause – old injuries that the body is still compensating for.

To understand this fully, it’s important to understand how our brains coordinate movement. We have an intention to move (i.e. to run). We may even have an intention to land on the midfoot / forefoot or to run in a certain way. But we do not choose which muscles we are going to use, or where we are going to distribute forces through our bodies. That’s all controlled automatically beyond our conscious awareness.

To simplify it, imagine as your foot hits the floor you want your calf muscles to absorb 25% of the load, the muscles at the back of the leg (hamstrings) 25%, the muscles at the front of the leg (quads) 25% and muscles at the hips (glutes) 25%. So everything does it’s job and nothing has to work too hard to get the job done.

Very often, in response to old injuries, the body starts to adjust these percentages. If I sprain my ankle, for example, my calf may now only do 5% instead of the 25% it should be doing. This may mean that now the muscles in the front of the leg have to do 45%. In terms of protecting my ankle, short term this is okay. But long term it’s going to cause problems, and when I start to build the mileage up I might start to get some knee pain.

Cause of Injury in Most Runners

Ankle Pain - Cause of Injury in Most Runners

The key thing here is the knee is the symptom, not the problem. I can foam roll the quad and stretch all I want, which will help short term, but unless I get my calf to do it’s fair share then the knee pain will keep coming back.

It’s very hard to assess yourself and get a true reading of the areas that are not doing their fair share, as the body is a very good compensator. It’s much easier for a professional to look at your movement and isolate as much as they can certain tissues to identify the root cause of the problem.

So, if you’re training for a spring marathon, don’t wait until you get injured. If you have been injured last year, or if you are suffering from any persistent niggles, come in for a free running screen to make sure everything is firing on all cylinders.

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