Why do I get injured all the time when I run? By: Che Phillips

Why do I get injured all the time when I run?

 By:

Ché Phillips,

Physiotherapist and Sports Scientist

Ba. Phty (Hons), B. Ex. Sc.

Why is it some people can run only short distances and others can run for miles and not get injured? The answer to this is due to the amount of force that is transferred up the legs from the foot hitting the ground, and more specifically the position of the foot as it hits the ground. Why is it that for thousands of years humans have been able to run long distances and only in recent history have impact and overuse injuries been a factor? The answer lies in how the foot strikes ground and how that has changed over time.

The modern running shoe was invented around 1970, before then humans ran barefoot or minimal footwear such as sandals. Recent research investigated the difference between “shoe runners” who strike (land) mostly on their heel whereas when compared to “barefoot” runners who strike either on the front (fore-foot) or mid-foot. The difference and results demonstrate that shoe runners generate much greater high impact collision forces (1.5-3 times body weight) up the leg than barefoot runners.

Overuse injuries such as Tibial (shin bone) stress fractures, Plantar Fasciitis (chronic pain in the sole of the foot) and even back pain has been related to these large forces being transferred up the body from the impact from the ground. The arch of the foot is critically important in the absorption and transfer of these forces. What the arch does is it facilitates the spring mechanics of running by firstly storing elastic energy at foot strike, and then releasing the elastic energy at the push off phase. The research shows that the arch stretches and engages more in the mid-foot and fore-foot runners than heel striking shoe runners.

Statistics show that even as shoe technology has improved through motion control and greater cushioning in the heel, the incidence of overuse injuries remains the same. It has been shown that even though cushioned heels are more comfortable, they limit proprioception (joint awareness and feeling) and this makes the foot lazy and land on the heel. Shoes also have arch supports and reinforced soles which may lead to weaker foot muscles, reduced arch strength and movement. In regards to the arch, stiffer joints and weaker foot muscles means less shock absorption and more force traveling up to the knee, hips and back.  

You can’t run barefoot all the time and on all surfaces, it’s just not ideal or practical. Not only is it impractical, it’s actually dangerous. Start by running once a week in a grassy field or park or even running on the hard sand on the beach. Be warned if you do too much too quickly, you’ll get very tight and sore calve muscles so make sure you are stretching after every run. Without thinking you will start striking on your mid-foot, engaging your core muscles and let thousands of years of pure musculoskeletal biomechanics do what it is designed to do.       

Ché Phillips,

Physiotherapist and Sports Scientist

Ba. Phty (Hons), B. Ex. Sc.

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