Why Does Running Hurt?

Running Injuries: Why They Happen and How to Prevent Them

Although injury happens in every sport, it seems to be prevalent in running, especially for those who return to the sport after a long period away or those who take up the sport later in life. I’m not trying to vilify running by any means. I focus on it only because it seems to be the go-to sport for a lot of adults in their 30s and 40s. I believe there are two main reasons injuries happen in runners – improper body position and improper technique.

When I say improper body position, I am referring to how your body lines up when you are standing in a relaxed stance. The human body is by no means perfectly symmetrical but it needs to be as evenly balanced as possible on all sides (left, right, front, back) to avoid injury and pain with movement. By the time you reach your 30s and 40s, your body has likely been adapting to certain imbalances for several years, if not your whole life. The pelvis is the most common place for imbalance to occur.

When your pelvis is imbalanced it can cause your legs to appear to be different lengths - a condition referred to by therapists as a functional leg length discrepancy. It doesn’t mean that one leg is measurably longer than the other (that would be a structural discrepancy) but when you are standing, one side of your pelvis is higher than the other causing one leg to look longer.

There are a few easy ways to tell if your pelvis is imbalanced right or left:

  • Stand in front of a mirror with your weight evenly distributed on both feet, put your hands on your hips and see if one hand looks higher.

  • If you tend to stand with your weight shifted to one leg more than the other, it’s usually because your pelvis is higher on the other side.

  • If you are uncomfortable standing with your weight evenly on both feet.

  • If the heels of your shoes are unevenly worn.

Your pelvis can also be imbalanced front to back with either an anterior tilt (forward) or a posterior tilt (backward). The anterior tilt is much more common and is a major cause of back pain for many people. An easy way to tell if you have an anterior pelvic tilt is to lie on the floor on your back and slide your hand under your low back. If you can fit your hand under your back, you have an anterior pelvic tilt. Ideally, your low back should be completely touching the floor. A posterior tilt is much less common.

So how does this imbalance lead to injuries? Well if you spend your life walking and sitting with a pelvic imbalance, the rest of your body has to develop different movement patterns to compensate. Your back will lean more to one side and your head will tilt toward the other just to keep yourself from falling over. This compensation also means that your spinal column is off centre and therefore will not be able to optimally absorb impact. If the imbalances are minor (1/8th -1/4th of an inch), you might not really notice them so much at first because your body will do what it needs to balance itself. What you might start to notice are regular headaches, neck pain, low back pain, knee pain, ankle pain or foot pain. And that’s just when walking or sitting.