The winter months can prove to be a minefield of hazards for many runners, cyclists, or any athlete who spends the majority of their time training outdoors. Unfortunately, the inevitability of getting a cold or flu is just one of those nuisances that we often have to deal with at this time of year. If we do manage to dodge the bugs, the cold and wet wintry conditions seemingly appear to wreak havoc upon the incidences of injury.
Running outside in colder temperatures can be risky to both new runners and even experienced runners if they are not fully prepared for the activity.
The body has an amazing ability to adapt to stresses and rigours you put on it, and that holds true when it comes to the temperature that you exercise in as well. When you run in colder temperatures circulation is often reduced to the extremities to help keep your body functioning properly. This reduction in blood circulation to the extremities were most repetitive stress injuries in runners occur, can put these areas at an increased risk of injury.
Research indicates little correlation between running injuries and the time of year, however during the months either side of the New Year I do see an increase in lower limb injury within my clinic. Studies would indicate that in wintry conditions the knee is the most common body part injured, while tendonitis was the most common type of injury sustained.
The effects of cryotherapy on body tissues suggest that cold exposure decreases performances measures, including proprioception, strength and agility. Since a decrease in proprioception and strength have been linked with an increase in injury rates, it would suggest that exposure to cold conditions may increase injury rates. Several studies have found that cold weather running has been shown to reduce muscle contraction force. If a muscle is not able to generate the proper amount of force during higher level activity, it can put more strain on tendons and ligaments, where blood supply is already reduced even during normal temperatures. Combine the reduced muscular force output with the possibility that a runner may not properly assess pain due to the cold, and you could potentially have an issue that requires attention. While there is little research showing a correlation between cold temperatures and injury, there is research to show that when temperatures fluctuate, ground conditions change, which may have affected injury rates.
Changing between various surfaces increases the irregularity and instability of every foot strike, particularly in wintry conditions. This can lead to repetitive strain injuries in the lower legs such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and other issues with the feet, ankles, calves, and hips.
Perhaps we blame muddy conditions and cold temperatures for all our injury woes. But it may be relevant to note that we are hitting our period of peak mileage in our winter training block before the summer racing season or as we approach spring marathons. There is plenty of research to support a higher risk of musculoskeletal injury with the more mileage a person runs.
There are several areas we can address to potentially reduce the incidence rate of injury during winter
Flexibility/Mobility – Stiffer tissues help to store injury, then return it to help us propel forward with less effort. But stiffness can go too far and can cause dysfunction. A flexibility routine can help us from getting too tight.
Stability – The more stable your core/trunk is while moving your arms and legs, the more efficient you’ll be. Many believe an unstable trunk is a leading contributor to injury, which is exacerbated by the irregular and uneven surfaces we face on a more frequent occurrence in the winter months. Don’t complicate things, choose a few exercises, and advance the exercises as you progress.
Keep Warm – Wrap up like an onion! Keep the muscles and connective tissues warm to help promote blood blow. An effective warm-up is perhaps more important in winter in order to effectively warm up your entire musculoskeletal system. Perhaps warming up a little longer or warming up indoors for 5 minutes on a treadmill or turbo trainer/spin bike before heading out.
Avoid the Terrible Too’s - As we hit those high mileage weeks, it is important that we don’t do too much, too fast, too soon. This can be especially relevant in the winter months as your body is working extra hard anyway to deal with the cold and changes in terrain. If you have any pain or discomfort that lasts longer than 48 hours and it’s not resolving, then it’s time to get some help.
Wrap up, warm up, and get outside and enjoy the winter training.
Paddy Hamilton is the head running coach at Elevation coaching and an International runner himself. If you would like to speak to Paddy about maximising your training with a coaching plan get in touch at email@example.com or call us on +44(0)7545965391