Gender Differences in Runners
Looking at research to reduce injury rates in runners
I recently attended a presentation on some new research coming out of UBC that’s looking at gender as a predicting factor for injuries in runners. It is one of the first studies to look at the differences in rates and types of injuries between males and females and is one of the largest studies to date looking at running injuries. The researchers chose to focus their research on females and how they compare to males given that women represent the majority of participants in North America and dominate the culture of organized run training programs. They identified some key factors that predict injuries in males and females, as well as the most common areas of injury based on gender.
Female risk factors
*in order of most to least likely
- History of severe running or musculoskeletal injuries– whether this was adequately treated and rehabilitated was a factor given its contribution to muscle imbalances, postural stability, reaction time etc.
- Leg length discrepancy (greater than 5mm)– There are two main types of leg length inequalities, structural and anatomical. Structural differences are a physical shortening of the bone caused by a birth defect or after a broken leg, serious infection, or local damage to one of the growth plates in a leg. Anatomical differences , the more common type is seen when the legs themselves are the same length, but due to neuromuscular injuries in the pelvis or upper leg, one leg or hip is held higher and tighter than the other.
- Dynamic Balance Recovery– Looks at the amount of postural sway and the ability to maintain balance during a single leg hop test. This is important given that a runner performs hundreds of single leg hops over every kilometre they run.
- Q-angle– The angle of pull of the quadricep muscle on the knee. The larger the angle the greater the compressive forces are at the knee.
- Hip extension-flexion imbalance– Resulting in a specific muscle to become overactive and another muscle to become inhibited occurs over time creating a muscle imbalance and an altered movement pattern.
Female protective factors
- Run experience– The researchers found that women running 1 day per week and training for a 10km race were 370% more likes to get injured!
- Tight hamstrings- I wouldn’t have though that the fact that I can’t touch my toes is protecting me from injury!
Male risk factors
- Tight iliotibial band– The IT band is a fibrous tissue that runs down the outside off the thigh. The action of the ITB and its associated muscles is to extend, abduct, and laterally rotate the hip. In addition, the ITB contributes to lateral knee stabilization.
- ???– The tests they used in this study to predict for female injury were not risk factors in males. As a result, no other predicting factors have been identified for male runners at this time.
Male protective factors
- Foot and ankle mobility– Increased range of motion in the foot and ankle were important in injury prevention.
- Run experience
- History of severe running injury– Which is interesting that this is protective in men when it was a risk factor for women.
The most common types of injuries in females were those related to alignment, which makes sense given the risk factors listed above. The most common being patella femoral pain syndrome (PFPS), Iliotibial band friction syndrome (ITBFS), sacro-iliac joint injuries, and stress fractures.
The most common types of injuries in males were those related to soft tissue, such as Tendinopathies, calf injuries, adductor/groin injuries and knee osteoarthritis.
So what can we learn from this research?
I think the take home message from this research is the importance of pre-habilitation prior to commencing a running program or increasing your current training program. Most of the key factors that put individuals (particularly females) at risk for running injuries are reversible through physiotherapy treatment and exercise. Therefore, don’t wait for an injury to happen to see a physiotherapist, book with us today and make sure you’re prepared to hit the road and train for your next race!
Burnaby Sports Physiotherapy
Research by Dr. Jack E. Taunton – M.D., MSc., DipSpMed (CASM) & Dr Michael Ryan – PhD, CPed(C)