8 out 10 Active Runners Will Suffer Injury in Their Career

November 8th, 2010 by Geoffrey Decker

If the highly-acclaimed British Journal of Sports Medicine and my little old informal – and wholly unscientific – survey are an indication,  runners hoping to remain injury-free face pretty stiff odds.

You heard that right. I put my research methods in the same sentence as the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Why? In a story about red flags that runners raise for health insurers, the New York Times cited one of their studies that “found rates of injury to the lower extremities were as high as 79 percent in long-distance runners.”

I concur. In a survey of 157 active runners with a wide range of age and fitness level,  78% of all respondents said they had incurred a running-related injury during their career that was serious enough to take at least a full week off from running.

Unsurprisingly, the more people ran, the more vulnerable they became to injury. Of 89 runners who said they ran more than four times a week, 87% have spent at least a week on the DL, versus 69% who ran three or less times a week.

The most common injury reported by respondents was muscle pulls or strains (52%), a relatively vague answer on the survey and weak indicator as a result (The British Journal would have surely caught such sloppiness). Next highest were shin splints, a common (and painful), but short-term injury that occurs in many runners who are just getting started. Not surprisingly, nearly half said they’ve experienced it at one point in their career. Rounding out the other most common injuries were IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinitis, and stress fractures*.

* An option for “No injury” was not initially as clear as it could have been, though many indicated as much in the ‘other’ field. A “Never Been Injured” box was later added.

And while running is a highly-effective exercise,  it come at a heavy toll in injury rehabilitation, which the majority of respondents said they sought. This includes physical therapy (52%), massage therapy (47%), podiatry treatment (25%), Yoga/Pilates (14%) and surgery or acupuncture (5% each). This survey did not attempt to determine which injuries required medical treatment paid for by health insurance benefits, but it’s safe to assume that physical therapists and podiatrists rarely receive out-of-pocket payments.

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