I love stuffed peppers, but I rarely have it. Trouble is, I don’t like cooking. Too many numbers, too many measurements, too much time. I’d rather have a shake, keep it simple. Running injuries are kind of like a recipe, but it’s a complex one whether you like it or not.
It seems everyone you talk to is dealing with some ache or pain. It also seems everyone is seeking a panacea for their chronic condition that keeps nagging them. This seems ironic with how “simple” running is perceived to be…. Unless it isn’t that simple...
“It’s just my tight hip flexors” ... “Oh, it was my weak calf muscles” ... "I just need to stretch more" ... It’s never just your “insert tight/weak body part”.
Why Do Injuries Happen?
Running is a repetitive sport where we see injuries occur over time. We may slightly exceed our tolerance to training and that’s okay, it happens. However, if this continues over time, a chronic, slight overload of the system beyond what we are looking for adaptation, coupled with insufficient recovery may lead to injury.
This often comes unnoticed due to cumulative stress. It happens when you wake up on a sunny July morning. It’s your day off after a stressful 50-hour work week, and the Saturday long run is what you look forward to. You get a whiff of that fresh coffee, so you jump out of bed and notice a slight “stiffness” in your Achilles. Meh. Running is where you de-stress and have time to yourself, so you do your typical 10-miler. Yet, the stiffness continues. When Google, Instagram, and YouTube fail and the advice from your uncle falls short, it’s time for a better understanding of your unique situation
Training involves applying loads (workouts) and promoting recovery, or adaptation. Unfortunately, training is not so black and white but rather a complex interaction of many factors. It’s important to recognize that stress is not differentiated in the body. In other words, our training and our ability to recover and adapt are not just physical but equally mental and emotional. There’s a reason why student athletes tend to get hurt more often during times of increased academic or life stress. Similarly, psychological factors such as anxiety, depression, and low mood status may predispose athletes to injury and impede recovery.
At the start of each workout or season, we have individual load tolerance. Our goal is to apply appropriate load to our system, allow adequate recovery, and see adaptation resulting in improved performance. Runners get hurt because the applied load (training) exceeds the capacity of the affected tissue. This can occur in a single training session or over time. Problems arise with insufficient recovery, as this is a complex mixture of physical, emotional, and mental components muddied by individual stress responses and personal history. Point is, it’s much more than your training program or your self-identified mechanical defect. It’s complex and appears impossible to quantify.
So How Do I Respect Psycho-Emotional Factors?
Treat emotional and mental experiences as you would physical. If you run a marathon, you’re going to (hopefully) dial things down the following few weeks. Given a time of mental exhaustion or emotional distress, scale back. This will inevitably happen
Athletes tend to speak on mechanical faults (tight hips, poor glute activation, etc) as they are tangible, or something we can see or feel. You don’t have to have a doctorate to see a great toe is stiff. Injuries and recovery are complex and complicated by an interrelationship of mechanical, emotional, and mental factors. Physical measurements are easy to observe, but we shouldn’t underestimate psycho-emotional factors.
This is the reason it’s difficult to answer a quick question at the dinner table. While you’d like to be a resource, you also don’t want to give what appears to be a clear answer with insufficient information regarding the athlete’s environment. It can be difficult to navigate, “hey, my calf is a little sore. What can I do?”, without greater context into their training habits, injury history, current medications, chronicity of the injury and overall lifestyle, etc. You want to be a resource…. You also don’t want to mislead someone without adequate information.
Runners often simply take time off before re-introducing training. This isn’t always such a bad idea and while training is significant, there are still other factors to consider. Recovery is complicated and takes time, we must look outside of our training and into our environment to best understand our injury and how to restore normal training. I think most individuals acknowledge the effect of stress and its effect on injuries, but don’t realize just how significant it is. Recognizing the complexity of injuries and better understanding these factors will inevitably lead to better understanding and reduction of injuries and assist in recovery. Running is complex. Recognize this, or you’ll ruin what could be a great recipe.
“….there is no single universally accepted definition of ‘stress’. The problem is not that the term has no clear meaning, but that it has different meanings in different contexts. This definitional ambiguity, in tandem with the complex neurobiology underpinning the stress phenomenon, ensures no single ‘gold standard’ measure of stress exists.” (Kiely, 2017)
“Accumulating multi-source stress variously down-regulates the immune system, motor coordination, cognition, mood, metabolism, and hormonal health; thereby dampening positive adaptation, diminishing athletic performance, elevating injury risk, and compromising recovery and recuperation.” (Kiely, 2017)
So, if injuries are so complex then what is the cause of my injury? In reality, the ingredients that factor into an injury look more like this…
Runners often simply take time off before re-introducing training. This isn’t always such as bad idea and while training is significant, there are still other factors to consider. Recovery is complicated and takes time, we must look outside of our training and into our environment to best understand our injury and how to restore normal training. Below is a simple depiction outlining the common process with recurring injuries.
I think most individuals acknowledge the effect of stress and its effect on injuries, but I don’t think many realize just how significant it is. Recognizing the complexity of injuries and better understanding these factors will inevitably lead to better understanding and reduction of injuries and assist in recovery. Running is a complex. Recognize this, or you’ll ruin what could be a great recipe.