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Injury prevention in novice runners

Published: 23 December 2021

Did you know that novice runners are at a higher risk of injury? Here's what you need to know!

It's no surprise that running has continued to grow in population and participation in the last few years. Many of us have taken up the challenge as a hobby and have fallen in love with it! However the injury rates of runners are alarmingly high, particularly in new runners.  

A 2018 study showed that novice runners sustained running-related injuries at a much higher rate than intermediate or advanced runners [1]. In the study, researchers studied over 4000 runners, over a 4-year period, each running a total of 1000 hours. The results showed that on average, novice runners had double the risk of sustaining an injury compared to experienced runners.

So why is that the case?

The human body is truly amazing, but it also needs time to adapt. You wouldn’t lift  weights that you’ve never worked with before – you would train, gain strength and work towards the goal. That should be the same case with running.

Here are some of the main reasons why novice runners sustain running related injuries:

Too much too soon
One of the most common reasons for injury that physiotherapists will see in runners is an overuse injury. The body is an amazing machine and has an incredible capacity to adapt, however as with everything it has a limit.

For adaptation to occur the body has to receive the right amount of stress; not enough stress -no adaptation, too much stress - injury.

The basic rule of thumb for running training is a 10% increase per week, and no more than a 10-15min increase in the long run. If you’re a beginner with not much running experience there are some great graduated programs that help runners achieve a certain goal, whether that be 5 kilometres or 30 minutes.

Lack of strength
Another common reason for injuries is a lack of strength, particularly in the stabilising muscles. The most common muscles are the calves, glutes and core. The calves play an important role in running by being the “spring” in which we absorb force and then propel ourselves forward.

The glutes and core work together to stabilise the lower back and pelvis and also to maintain proper lower limb alignment, this can help prevent knee injuries and other lower limb injuries. There are specific exercises for all of these muscles, some simple, some more complex.

It’s recommended that you seek out some professional help to ensure you have solid and strong foundation from which you can work (or run) from.

A lack of mobility may also contribute to injuries. This can occur anywhere in the body; however the two most common areas are the ankle and the hip. If either of these joints do not have enough mobility it can alter the stresses on the body and lead to lower limb or lower back injuries.

We recommend seeing a physiotherapist to assess your mobility to ensure you are prepared for running.

Poor Form
Poor running form is very common among runners, particularly beginners. The most common mistake is overstriding - landing with the toes pointed to the sky way out in front of the body. This means that the body is effectively breaking with each step. An effective running technique has the foot landing very close to the body improving shock is absorption much easier and there is less chance of injury.

Seek advice sooner rather than later
One of the most important aspects of injury prevention is seeking advice and professional opinion as soon as possible. The longer the injury the more difficult it is to resolve.
If you’re a runner or looking to get into running, it is recommended you go see your physiotherapist to have a running assessment and biomechanical assessment so that you can stay on your feet and to continue to enjoy your running.


[1] Ellen Kemler, Donna Blokland, Frank Backx & Bionka Huisstede. (2018) Differences in injury risk and characteristics of injuries between novice and experienced runners over a 4-year period.