What causes a running injury

Posted on Fri, Jul 30, 2021 by Lucy Sacarello

As we all know, there are a number of complex factors that can lead to a running injury. Most often, when there is no specific mechanism of injury, training load becomes the main causative factor. Load is the cumulative amount of stress put on your body and when training loads exceed the body’s physical capacity i.e. what the body can handle, a running injury can occur.

Think of the above diagram like a seesaw. Injury comes about when there is an imbalance in loading and the athlete’s capacity to tolerate load.

Now, overloading for a short period of time is often intentional in order to reap the physiological benefits and adaptations. But inadequate recovery and too much overload can tip the athlete over the edge into an injured state. This is when it is important to monitor your load.

What dictates the LOAD?

Load can be broken down into external and internal factors. External load is the volume of physical demands on the body - those that you are most likely familiar with, and include - time on feet, weekly mileage, training intensity (work rate zones), elevation (hills), strength sessions and cross-training.

Internal load is the body’s physiological and perceived response to it. This is important because these same external load factors (above) may have different perceived responses from your body for a number of reasons such as physical fatigue, a poor night sleep & physical/emotional stress.

What impacts our ability to tolerate LOAD?

  • Sleep – Increased sleep duration and improved sleep quality in athletes are associated with improved performance and reduced likelihood of injury. Sleeping <8hours a night can lead to 1.7 X greater risk of injury than those who get 8 hours+
  • Nutrition – Food intake needs to match the demands of sustaining everyday life AND training volume. One underestimates how much fuel is needed for basic physiological processes i.e. sleep & breathing, plus cognitive, emotional & physical daily demands and this is all before training output is considered. Injury risk heightens when we underestimate how much fuel we need for these.
  • Running Form
  • Strength, Endurance, Power – The body’s physical capacity can have protective effects against a number of injuries.
  • Injury History – This is one of the strongest risk factors for developing a running-related injury. This can be a similar site to your previous or one that has a knock-on effect. This only highlights the importance of seeing your physio rehab through to the end.

IN CONCLUSION, runners that monitor their training; the load on their body and capacity to deal with it, are already taking control to reduce their risk of injury. With progression, ensure you are consistent with your training and introduce only small elements of change over time. Alongside this, ensure you adequately recover from week to week and throughout your training blocks.


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