Are Your Running Injuries Caused by Stress?

Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise in the world. It can be done practically anywhere and very little equipment is needed. Running is an effective exercise for weight loss and increasing cardiovascular endurance. There are many great qualities, but running also has its drawbacks:  It is estimated that 65% of all runners will have some sort of injury in any given year, and for every 1000 hours of running, the average runner will sustain one injury.1

There are many possible causes for these injuries, with any of the following being the culprit:

Over striding
Rigid or tight upper body movements
Excessive heel strike
Worn or improper shoes
Uneven running surfaces
There are countless findings and discussions on proper running form and tips on how to avoid injury, but theres one cause of injury that might be worth looking into, and thats injuries caused by stress.

A person may understand how exercise itself puts stress on the body and cause injuries, but they may not realize the stress a person feels psychologically can affect their running as well.

The Physical Effects of Stress

Chronic stress is considered long term stress and can negatively affect the body in many ways if left untreated. Headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, chest pain and depression can all be caused by stress. These issues can be quite serious and require medical attention if symptoms persist.

Its also important to note how chronic stress can affect a person athletically as well:

Muscle Tension. Stress can cause muscle tension, particularly in the skeletal muscles. It generally occurs in the back, shoulders, neck and jaw. This tension can be magnified if a person is performing a certain activity while under stress. For example, a person whos under stress at work may unknowingly sit for hours at a time with their shoulders and jaws tensed while they are typing or talking on the phone. If done day after day, week after week, month after month, the tension could become normal and they might remain in a tense state, even when not at work and relaxed.

Pain. Prolonged muscle tension can lead to chronic pain. Studies suggest chronic pain can occur anywhere in the body and can flare up at any time via trigger points. Even if the pain subsides, it could reoccur sometime in the future.3 The most common affected areas are the shoulders, hips, back, neck, and knees.4

Neuromuscular Stress Reflexes. Many studies have been conducted on a possible link between chronic stress and unilateral postural distortions where one hip or shoulder is slightly higher than the other. According to Thomas Hanna, founder of the Somatics method of treatment, chronic stress is a primary cause of bilateral postural distortions that occur in the mid saggital-plane (the head forward, pelvic tilt.)5


Stress and Injuries

Running is a great stress reliever, but ironically, the muscle tension and pain created by the stress of everyday living may be the root cause of some runners injuries. Proper form and mechanics are two important keys to staying injury free, but chronic stress can cause a person to have a limited range of motion or alter their running stride.