When a Running Injury Is Not a Running Injury At All

Ellie Greenwood discusses running injuries by work and lifestyle choices.

By on May 20, 2013 | Comments

Chick's CornerSo you reckon you run a lot? Me too! At this time of year I’m lacing up my shoes about six days out of seven. As soon as I wake up in the morning my thoughts are not of work, but what run I’ll log after work, and lunchtimes are spent planning weekend running routes and rendezvous with friends – where will we meet, how many miles will we log, and how long will it take. And at the end of each week, I’ll sneak a look at my Garmin stats – how many hours and miles logged – at this time of year it’s maybe about 100 miles a week, and heck – that sure cuts back on doing other social activities, so I figure I run a lot so therefore any aches and pains and niggles are caused by running. Or are they?

With a few more niggles than normal (I don’t like the word injury; that implies I should maybe cut back on my running), I headed off to the physio. I anticipated maybe a critique of my running form, some analysis of imperfect biomechanics, or advice to cut back on the miles if I also wanted to be logging quality speed sessions. Basically, I expected to hear that my high volume of running was making me injured (or ‘niggled’). Instead, my physio made a rather depressing statement that I’d never considered before, “So, you spend more than 40 hours a week sitting at your work desk, that’s probably the real reason for all these hamstring issues.”

Huh, rather obvious really, but I guess I wanted to think I was a runner so my thoughts had focused on the time I spend doing that, and then work – well, that’s just work isn’t it? I guess not; 40 hours at a desk versus 15 hours running, yeah – it could make sense that all this desk work could be wreaking havoc on my body. Sure, if all I wanted to do after work was sit on the couch or maybe do a little light gardening, I’d probably be fine but no – I want to log my runs after work and that is when the pain is flaring up – running aggravates imbalances and injuries that are caused by sitting at a desk, but that’s not to say the running causes them – it just brings them to the forefront.

Of course, in a way, this is what I wanted to hear – yay, no need to cut back on running! Can I cut back on the paperwork pounding? Hmm, well, that would be nice, but not really too realistic if I want my monthly paycheck. So, I guess it’s about how to manage the way in which other aspects of my life, which might not be the best compliment to my running, can be modified or changed so they don’t negatively impact my running. I can tell you one thing, I felt pretty darn stupid walking out of a physio session with one of my main tasks not being daily exercises, but, instead, instructions on how to set up my work station properly and how often to take breaks from the office-desk-slump-posture. This all seemed so obvious yet I know I’m not the only one who has been working day-in day-out in some crumpled-up-slouched-over-the-keyboard position.

The next lifestyle analysis and adjustment was the gym. In a similar vein to my desk job, I’d not considered how the gym could possibly be detrimental to a runner. It’s not as if I’m bench-pressing huge lumps of iron, I’m more the mid-size many-rep bicep curl kinda girl. Oh, and whilst I was at the gym I figured I’d throw in a few other things – chest press, shoulder shrugs, etc. – can’t do any harm, can it? Well, no not really – not unless I already had super tight shoulders (which have now been surgically removed from being attached to my ears) and sit at a desk all day and then want to run, too. Hmm, cut out a few of the gym exercises, carrying the groceries home from the store probably builds those muscles enough for a runner, as tense shoulders were resulting in me running with my shoulders fixed rigid. Of course, the magic of the human body means that tense shoulders can cause hamstring issues, which is pretty clever if you ask me!

All I can say is thank goodness I don’t drive a car, I think that I sit stock still at a desk for a bulk of the day, but sitting in a vehicle is even worse for lack of movement. And no doubt there are many physical jobs or ones requiring you to stand on your feet all day that can have a real negative impact on a runner. Overall, it’s been an interesting and eye-opening experience to have a look at how other aspects of my life impact physically on my running, and I am sure this is the same for many of you reading this article. If you think about it – we have 24 hours every day, let’s say eight of those are spent sleeping, that still leaves 16 hours and it’s my bet that no one reading this spends anything like half of those 16 hours running every day. Which means more time is spent doing non-running activities (be they other sports, hobbies or a paid job). While those activities might not seem overly physical (I always joke that my desk job lets me rest for eight hours every day), they can still impact our physical form, which then carries through to running, and all too often running injuries.

Ellie Greenwood
Ellie Greenwood has IAU World 100k Championship, Western States, and Comrades victories to her credit. A Scot living in Canada, Ellie is supported by Salomon, Clif Bar, Udo's Oil, and Sundog Eyewear. You can read more about Ellie's running on her blog.