Preventing Cross Country Running Injuries

Student athletes running in a race are commonly injured

One of the most popular after-school sports in the fall is competitive, long-distance running, known as cross country. Cross country is highly accessible and draws interest from students of all ages and ability levels. 

Despite the fact that many running-related injuries are very preventable, the rate of injury remains quite high for cross country runners. Recent studies have shown that around 41% of young female runners and 37% of males are injured each cross country season. 

Why do so many cross country runners get injured? Injuries can be attributed to many controllable factors, such as running at too high mileage, sudden changes in training routines, running on irregular surfaces, failing to warm up properly, poor sleep quality, or having a preexisting injury. If properly educated on the importance of safe running, coaches, athletic trainers, and athletes can work together to prevent injuries.

Running injuries commonly occur throughout the legs, in the knees, feet, ankles, and calves. Most running injuries are chronic, overuse injuries. 

Some very common conditions include: 

Preventing Cross Country Injuries

While some injuries are simply unavoidable, there are many ways you can improve your chances of avoiding injuries as well as your strength, ability, and success as a cross country runner. 

  • Build up by following the 10% rule.

The rule states that you shouldn’t increase your mileage by more than 10% each week. To follow this, coaches should evaluate their training schedules and kids should consider building up mileage on their own before the season begins. 

  • Rest, rest, rest.

Overtraining is the #1 cause of injuries. Taking regular rest days is essential to improving recovery and injury prevention. Unfortunately, many coaches and athletes are unaware of this.

  • Mix it up.

Changing the terrains you run on, the distances, and the speed, every workout, can help prevent injury and overtraining. 

  • Focus on form.

Maintaining good form is vital to reducing injury. However, many kids begin the sport with no knowledge of form. Even high-level runners can have very poor form! It’s generally the coach’s responsibility to monitor and inform the kids if their form needs to be changed. Poor form can also lead to issues with pronation.

  • Always warm up and cool down.

Cold, tight muscles are far more susceptible to injury, especially during high-intensity runs like intervals or hill repeats.

  • Stretch before running.

Stretching should be considered a part of conditioning. Static and dynamic stretches can help improve muscle and bone health as well as flexibility and range of motion.

  • Wear proper running shoes.

Make sure you’re wearing the right shoes, and that they’re not too worn out. If you’ve experienced prior foot pain, consider investing in orthotics

  • Hydrate.

Dehydration can cause muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, fainting, and more.

  • Eat well.

Running burns a lot of calories, and many kids have a poor grasp on the proper nutrition necessary to maintain optimal performance. Eating a balanced diet, full of protein, fruits, and vegetables, is essential to optimize energy and endurance.

  • Monitor you/ your child’s mental wellbeing.

It’s hard to perform well if you are struggling with mental health, social problems, or academic issues. Check in with your peers or kids. If you are a runner who is struggling, don’t hesitate to seek support. Female athletes in particular are susceptible to female athlete triad.

  • Cross-train.

Incorporating weight-training or other forms of exercise, can help strengthen and balance overworked muscles. 

  • Wear good socks.

Blisters are very common in runners. While they’re not serious, they are very painful and can hinder your movement.

  • Run for fun.

If you don’t get fulfillment or pleasure out of running, don’t run! Some kids get “forced” into participating and only give a half-hearted effort, resulting in injury and frustration.

If you or your child has sustained a running-related injury in the Louisville, Kentucky-area, board certified sports medicine physician Dr. Stacie Grossfeld at Orthopaedic Specialists PLLC can help. Read the inspiring story of a high school cross country runner’s recovery here. Orthopaedic Specialists is currently accepting new patients, and same day/telemedicine appointments are also available. For additional information or to schedule an appointment today, call 502-212-2663.