Running Injuries are a part of participating in this awesome sport
When you are testing or pushing the limits, it can sometimes mean that you end up injured. In any sport, if you are intending to achieve your highest potential, inevitably you’ll have to test the limits of your body and mind. As a developing high-level distance runner, I wasn’t afraid to see how far I could go. The incentive was there - The Zatopek 2018 Australian 10,000m Championships. To execute this race well I had to gradually increase my mileage (or load), complete longer track workouts and threshold/tempo runs, and ensure I was continuing to build running-specific strength in the gym. However, I wasn’t aware that a previous concussion I obtained earlier in life, alongside consistent higher mileage and intensity would result in a slow developing injury, which resulted in no running for almost 5 months.
In January a diagnosis was confirmed, which did provide some relief after months of physiotherapy and no long-term success. An MRI presented that I had bilateral hamstring origin tendinopathy, and had obtained a 12mm longitudinal high hamstring tear on the left side, with resultant stress reaction at the site of injury. Interestingly this injury is very uncommon for younger athletes. Proximal hamstring tendon tears most often occur in people aged 40 and older, likely as a result of a sudden fall or continual strain without adequate warm up (like a sudden sprint). Both the doctors and myself were very surprised that this was my diagnosis. However, things became clearer when we decided to investigate my biomechanics, and the relationship between my 2014 concussion and how my brain signals my body to move.
Establishing A Recovery Plan
This investigation involved working with a physiotherapist who also specialized in neuro-science and human biomechanics. He had worked with high level football players in the US who are frequently exposed to concussions. I essentially had to retrain the way my foot makes contact with the ground when I run, and how I follow through with my stride to ensure I engage all my muscles up the back line of my legs.
My rehabilitation/recovery plan was quite comprehensive and didn’t stop at this. I also began working with Sports Medicine Physicians where it was decided that in order to fully recover, I would need two PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections, and time off the legs. Luckily my nordic skiing background meant I had no issues with cross training on the bike, in the pool and in the weight room.
Getting Back On Track (Literally)
Any distance runner who has had a significant injury knows of the tediousness that is a ‘return to running program’. However, it is essential that this is strictly adhered to, in order to get back to full load and not have an injury repeat. My return to run program involved both rehab exercises each day and a run-walk program:
- 10 building to 30 hamstring raises a day, per leg
- 10 building to 50 glute bridges a day
- Single Leg RDL’s, or ‘good mornings’, 10 each side, every day. Eventually adding hand weights
- Hamstring Isometric exercises (including sustained holds)
- Resolving rib-ring dysfunction and issues manifesting from this throughout the body (Read more about this approach by clicking here)
Some examples of run-walk exercises include 1 minute run, 1 minute walk x 10. Eventually building to consistent duration runs. Speed work sessions were the last thing to be added in.
By May 2019, I managed to gradually build my mileage to around 40km a week, pain free. I still had plenty of work to do in my awareness at end ranges, being quite tight through my hamstrings.
It was extremely important that I continue to increase my mileage by 10-15% a week, in partnership with a strength and conditioning program, and stretching regimen. The reason why we choose to increase mileage by such a specific percentage is because sudden increase in load can cause injury to reappear, or another injury to manifest.
What did I learn from this running injury?
It was important that I completed my rehab program to the best of my abilities, but also allow myself adequate time to rest and heal. I knew that I had to be right to go to the USA to run Cross-Country and Track for Boise State by August 2019. This provided great incentive to heal, become strong and educated in the area of injury management and recovery.
One of the biggest takeaways from this injury is learning the importance of maintaining strong form and biomechanical efficiency. To achieve this, the athlete has to put in work outside of simply ‘running’. A tailored, running specific strength and conditioning program is ideal, plyometric exercises, maybe forking out a few dollars for a sports massage or dry needling/acupuncture session once in a while, and a consistent stretching of problem areas (I personally do 10-20 minutes of The Invisible Exercise - TIE, 5 days a week). The Invisible Exercise involves working with breath, skeletal alignment and bone placement to retrain your body to have optimal posture in both general life and sport training.
As soon as we neglect these areas, niggles can start to creep up. If a niggle isn’t addressed, it can turn into a bigger, long-term problem.
Biggest Learning - Catching an Injury Early On
Now, when I feel a niggle coming on, I’ll often reduce the intensity of my training and often opt for a pool or bike session to temporarily decrease my running load and let my body recover. Often taking a couple days completely off can do the trick too!
I believe it is wise to remember that when we rest and let our body repair the training induced damage, we come back a little bit stronger each time.
By Lara Hamilton