When I first started to run 15 years ago, I was often the solitary practitioner of this now very popular sports activity. When running on the Queens Quay along the banks of the River Foyle, I now find myself one of many runners taking advantage of what are now excellent running routes that are both safe and picturesque.
There are more running clubs than ever before and these reflect a broad demographic. What is often overlooked, is the number of women who are now pounding the highways and byways. What I have noticed over the years is that female runners tend to get injured significantly less than their male counterparts! Why is this the case?
Well, van der Worp et al. have surveyed much of the research on this phenomenon and come up with some interesting findings in their article on the risk factors between the sexes.
Although running is considered as “one of the most efficient ways to achieve physical fitness”, there is always the ever-present risk of injury (especially lower-limb), and strategies are needed to prevent such injuries in the first place. In analysing the differences in male/female injury rates, van der Worp asserts that “women are at a lower risk of running injuries than men”.
They identified the following factors that placed women at increased risk of injury; older age, running marathons, training on hard surfaces (road & concrete), weekly mileage more than 30 and coming from non-axial (shock impact) sports such as swimming/cycling.
On the other hand, factors that placed men at greater risk of injury were; running more than 40 miles per week, novice runners with less than 2 years’ experience, just returning to running, and previous injury. They found that men have a significantly higher risk of injury than women – especially those under 40 years of age.
However, regardless of gender, 80% of running disorders are attributed to overuse. And what can be gleaned from their findings is that men tend to over-train in terms of distance and intensity whereas women tend to err on the side of caution. Additionally, it appears that men do not give themselves sufficient recovery time from injury, and even when they do, they increase their training regime too much upon returning.
Even from personal experience, I have often found myself pushing too hard, too soon, in terms of what I am capable of – thus resulting in repeat injury. From participant observation over the years, I certainly echo the findings of van der Worp in so much as men generally adopt a less patient approach to running and ultimately find themselves paying the price of being side-lined for prolonged periods.
Such an approach to a very physically and psychologically demanding sport, can easy result in a vicious circle of injury after injury. In conclusion, it’s fair to say that male runners can learn a lot from their female counterparts in terms of training and avoiding injury.
Further reading: Maarten van der Worp et al. ‘Injuries in Runners: A Systematic Review on Risk Factors and Sex Differences’, PLOS ONE, Feb. 2015, pp.1-18