Let us first appreciate just what an adaptive machine the human body is. We’ve all seen stories of 7 stone weaklings who turn into buff 15 stone muscle men and women, evidence that the body has a great capacity to adapt to the demands that we place on it.

We all have the capacity to handle a certain amount of load, but beyond that amount, we get injured.

In fact, the key to preventing and managing injuries is the ability to balance training loads with the capacity of our tissues (muscles, tendons, bone and connective tissues) to tolerate that load.

Basically, this is about working within your limits and not pushing your body so hard that it gets injured.

Weak tissues and high loads will lead to injuries. Strong tissues and low loads, and you won’t have a problem.

As we seek performance improvements, we aim to tread the fine line where strong tissues meet high training loads, leading to positive adaptations but avoiding injuries.

So, a big part of my job in treating injured or injury-prone runners is to formulate strategies to, on one hand, reduce loading on the tissues, and on the other hand, to improve the capacity/ toughness of those tissues.

This is even more important if you have an injury, as injured tissues have less capacity than they did before the injury.

Below are some simple strategies that you can use to balance both sides of the equation.

Reduce or Modify Loads

Reduce your training loads:

  • More rest days or spread out your runs more effectively
  • Increase the percentage of cross training exercises e.g. swimming, cycling or elliptical
  • Reduce running mileage
  • Reduce speed or intensity during runs
  • Manipulate the combination of running mileage and intensity more intelligently
  • Alter environmental factors such as hills and running surfaces

Reduce the loads on injured at at-risk tissues caused by other activities in your life:

  • Loads when you are at work e.g. reduce stair climbing if you have an Achilles injury
  • Loads from other hobbies e.g. reduce lifting heavy paving slabs if you are a DIYer with a new patio to lay and painful knees
  • Loads during everyday activities e.g. reduce walking distances if it aggravates your injury

It is also possible to modify loads on injured or at-risk tissues by:

  • Changing the way you move, particularly your running style. Changing the way your body is aligned when you move can reduce loads on certain tissues and encourage underactive muscles to step up and do their bit
  • Changing your footwear e.g. change from a minimalist shoe to a trainer with a heel for a few days or weeks to offload a sore Achilles tendon
  • Using insoles, supports, straps or taping

Improve Tissue Capacity

On the other side of the equation, we can progressively increase the load capacity of the tissues through specific:

  • Endurance and strength exercises
  • Power and plyometric exercises
  • A well-designed running plan

You can also improve the healing or recovery of injured or at-risk tissues through:

  • Stretching and mobility work
  • Optimal sleep and rest
  • Good nutrition
  • Reducing stress levels
  • Appropriate use of ice packs or heat packs
  • Massage
  • Electrical treatments e.g. ultrasound or shockwave therapy
  • Medications (see your GP or pharmacist about these)

Of course, we are far more complicated than a series of tissues responding to load. We have an amazing brain that is always in charge when it comes to injury recovery and athletic performance.

I’ll write more about the role of the brain in the future, but for now, let me know if you have any comments about this post.

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