Preventing Common Trail Running Injuries

Has the trail marathon bug hit you yet? While ultra-marathons have kept many trail runners busy traversing 50 to 100 plus miles of trails in a race, the trend of running 26.2-mile marathon-length trail races continues to grow across the nation. In fact, the American Trail Running Association lists over 100 trail running events and races across the U.S. for the month of January 2019 alone!

Preventing Common Trail Running Injuries

It’s no surprise. Trail marathons offer a unique racing adventure that can journey you into forests, mountains, canyons, beaches, and more. Like road running, however, trailing running isn’t exempt from occasional injury. If you are training to complete your first or fifth trail marathon, don’t miss this quick injury guide with helpful prevention tips:

Risk Factors for Trail Running Injuries

One of the most effective ways to protect yourself against trail running
injuries is to recognize your risk factors and take steps to mitigate them.

Risk factors for trail running injuries include:

  1. Adding distance to quickly when training – lengthening the distance you cover more than 10 to 15 percent week by week can generate excess strain on your joints and muscles making them more susceptible to injury.
  2. Incorporating too much climbing too quickly – trail running naturally involves a ton of hill work. Incorporating too much hill work at once, however, can stress the muscles and joints you engage when climbing and increase your risk of injury.
  3. Poor footwear – there is a reason choosing trail running shoes requires a lot of thought. If your shoes lack the grip, weight, support, durability, and comfort trail running requires, your body will pay the price.
  4. Experiencing a past injury – unfortunately, research has shown that those who have experienced an injury before are at higher risk of developing one again, whether it’s an ankle sprain or runner’s knee.
  5. Terrain and weather – it goes without saying that the trail running environment can be more dangerous at times than a clear roadway, especially during and after inclement weather, i.e. when running over slick leaves, slippery rocks, loose soil, natural debris, etc.

Common Trail Running Injuries

An estimated 20 to 80 percent of runners experience some form of an injury every year especially in the lower extremities.

Ankle sprains – when the ligaments that connect bones in the ankle together become overextended, either by rolling, twisting, or over-rotating the ankle, they can stretch and even tear, leading to an ankle sprain. This can happen in a split-second on a trail when a simple slip on a wet tree root or a sudden shift of a rock underfoot changes your trajectory and body mechanics.

Ankle sprains will range from mild to severe and may be accompanied by symptoms including swelling, pain, tenderness, stiffness, and bad bruising. The R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) treatment method is typically effective at-home for treating less serious sprains, however, if you are unable to manage the swelling and can’t put any weight on your ankle at all after one or two days, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.

Trail runners who have had ankle sprains before may want to sport an ankle brace while running that helps stabilize and support the joint to prevent re-injuring it in the future (see more here:

Proper trail running footwear will also play an important role in circumventing ankle injuries, facilitating both good body mechanics as well as strong grip with the ground to prevent slipping.

Tendonitis – varying types of tendonitis can affect trailer runners especially. The intense impact on the knees of running uneven terrain that includes many hard surfaces like rocks and stones can contribute to irritation and inflammation of tendons which connect muscles and bones together at the knee joint.

The climbing involved in trail running may additionally strain the tendons in the upper and lower leg, especially the Achilles tendon that runs down the calf and attaches to the heel bone. Tendonitis most often results in symptoms of pain and discomfort as well as potential tenderness, swelling, and stiffness.

Experts recommend preventing tendonitis by dynamically warming up before a trail running, stretching and strengthening the muscles in the leg outside of running to better support your joints, and limiting common overuse practices like ramping up distance or hill work too quickly during training.

Additional trail running injuries may include IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and patellofemoral pain syndrome (where cartilage under the kneecap wears away from overuse or injury).

-By James Flemming

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