Whether you’ve been running for years or just getting into it, you may not agree with the statement “Everything in moderation” when it comes to your training. Running is a great form of exercise which can not only help weight loss, but also help increase your fitness and endurance, whilst improving your mood. But after the feel-good endorphins disappear, too much intense exercise and running with inadequate recovery, may leave you prone to overuse injuries. But are females more prone to running injuries than men?
It may sound unusual but studies have actually found that females suffer from a higher rate of injuries than men, but the question of why is a bit more unclear—could it be our body dimensions? Hormones? Different training?
The answer is …a number of different things! While there is a vast amount of evidence showing that women have a higher volume of training when it comes to running, our natural anatomy can be a major cause.
Wider Hips and Smaller Feet
For example when compared with men, women have shorter and smaller limbs, with a shorter stature and wider pelvis relative to body length- meaning we naturally have wider hips. Having wider hips can affect our foot position and the angle/ body tilt at which we run, making women more susceptible to hip bursitis and patellofemoral syndrome (knee pain).
Not only this, the size of our feet can also be related to injury and while this does not apply to all girls- in general women tend to have smaller feet than men, making female runners more prone to shin splints (pain in the front of the lower leg and along the tibia), and plantar fasciitis (inflammation and pain through the bottom of the foot) . Other common injuries you may have heard about include Achilles Tendinitis ( A closely related cousin of Plantar fasciitis), IT band syndrome (inflammation of the outer thigh) and Runner’s Knee (pain around and under the knee).
So What Can We Do About It?
If you suffer from any of these injuries you’ll know how frustrating it is! For example a few issues I have are linked to my tiny feet and hips- meaning I massively over protonate, which in addition to tight hip flexors can cause me to suffer from shin splints, an overly tight IT band and patellofemoral syndrome from time to time. So what can we do about it? Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about our anatomy but there are a few things that can help common running injuries.
1. Wear The Right Running Shoes
If you suffer from foot pain such as plantar fasciitis or calve and shin pain, this could simply be down to your footwear. When it comes to running and your natural foot position there are three different types of runners: those who have neutral foot movement with normal arching in the foot, those who are flat footed and over protonate (foot rolls inwards and you push from big toe when you run) and those who have especially high arches and under protonate (foot rolls outwards towards the outside of your foot). Prontation is nothing to worry about and it is the natural movement that helps the lower leg deal with impact and shock when running- but it can make you more susceptible to injuries.
That’s why it’s important to get the right running trainers for your feet- as you may need a running shoe with added support and cushioning. Lots of running shops will have equipment that can easily tell you exactly what you need so don’t hesitate to get out there! The answer to your problem may be a super simple shoe fix.
2. Run with Good Form
You may be thinking that there isn’t a “correct” way to run and running comes naturally- however when it comes to form and technique there are things you should avoid. For example heel striking (hips being behind your feet), lack of mobility, a tense and unrelaxed upper body and very slow cadence/speed (running gait) are all things that should be avoided.
A lack of motion is something that many women suffer from in the lower body- including me! With a lack of motion in the lower leg and feet, and tight hip flexors we can be more prone to injury. By stretching after a run you can help increase motion and stretch out your muscle when they are warm- the safest way. You should aim to stretch all different areas, specifically looking into calf raises and stretches, wall pushes/push ups, hip flexor stretches, hip openers (e.g. clam stretches, plie squats and leg raises), hamstring and quadriceps stretches. It also important to member all muscles are connected, which means issues in the back can often cause injuries in the lower body, so don’t forget to stretch your upper body: chest, shoulders and back, to minimise upper body tension.
4. Train and Recover the Right Way
Okay so this is much easier said than done but try and train sensibly. Running is an addictive sport, making over training a common cause of injury. For me, running 8- 10 miles every day and pushing through any pain used to seem like a good idea- but after spending 6 months unable to run from a nasty overuse injury you learn your lesson.
Don’t make the mistake- make sure you are training sensibly- LISTEN to your body! If you feel pain while running this is NOT normal and you should not just push through the pain. Get a suitable amount of rest, stretch, foam roll to recover the right way. Make sure you get plenty of sleep- at least 7 hours. Often enough what can be thought of as “over training” may actually be under recovering.
5. Hydration and Eating the Right Way for Your Running
I can’t stress how important hydration, food and nutrition is for running and recovery. For those who want to lose weight, a low calorie diet followed by miles of running seems like a good solution- but in reality you are damaging your metabolism and muscles.
Even when losing weight you need to eat to keep your metabolism ticking over, after all it’s better to take a steady approach to weight loss, than to damage your long term health and suffer from injuries due to a lifestyle than is simply not maintainable in the long run. Make sure you eat for running and for recovery- get plenty of complex, high fibre carbohydrates the night before or prior to running, to fill your muscles full of essential glycogen (energy). Then after- be sure to replenish your blood sugar levels with some fruit and aid muscle recovery with a scoop of fast acting whey protein.
A Take Home Message
Yes the female anatomy technically means we are more susceptible to running injuries, but if you stop over training and follow the top tips above you can help solve existing and prevent future injuries- making sure you reap the benefits of running and enjoy the endorphins!