Home > Feature

Endurance athletes and chronic injuries

Why do endurance athletes experience chronic injury in some areas of the body so often? Dr. Cindy Lewis explains.

— By Dr. Cindy Lewis

Long distance triathlon and endurance running are blamed for causing many chronic injuries, including those injuries to the knees, hips and low back.  And, some studies have shown that more than 50% of triathletes and endurance runners experience injury that interrupts their training at least once during the year.  However, it’s been shown that the impact caused by either of them can not be directly linked to causing arthritic changes in the joints.  So what is it about these sports that seem to result in these persistent and chronic injuries at times?  

As a chiropractor with a patient base consisting of mostly triathletes, cyclists and runners, I see complex overuse injuries on a daily basis.  Most of these issues develop over time from muscular imbalances in the core and hips that lead to faulty biomechanics further down the chain.  These issues develop without us knowing, until suddenly we start to feel pain.  Then, the athlete seeks treatment.  The site of pain is addressed and usually the pain goes away.  And then the same injury often occurs again some time later and the athlete wonders why.  Usually this is because the cause of the issue wasn’t addressed the first time, the faulty biomechanics continue, leading to a change in function throughout the lower kinetic chain, leading to a recurrence of the same pain or a new injury.

So how can we, as endurance athletes, decrease our chances of sustaining an injury due to overuse, or start to correct any issues that might be causing current issues? The first step is to figure out what might not be functioning the way it should be – for example, perhaps your core is not strong enough or is not active enough.  Maybe your hip range of motion is decreased or your glute muscles are not firing strongly enough.  Maybe your ankle flexibility isn’t where it should be and that’s causing a change in your foot strike and pedal stroke.  The first step is getting a functional assessment and getting a picture of how your body is working and what you might need to work on correcting.  Once you know what is out of balance and what is increasing your risk of experiencing injury in the future, you can then work with your chiropractor, a physical therapist or a good personal trainer, who has experience working with athletes.  You will most likely begin a specific and progressive strength program that is focused on your body’s unique strength and stability needs.  It will take dedication and patience to get where you want to be – this needs to be approached with the same focus and dedication as the rest of your training.  In order to get the most out of your endurance training program you need to be able to stay healthy in order to maintain consistency in your training!

Dr. Cindy Lewis-Caballero is a Chiropractor, Triathlon and Run Coach, Personal Trainer and Professional Triathlete.  She provides Chiropractic Services for CL Performance Training through Cindy Lewis Chiropractic Professional Corporation. You can book an appointment with her in Toronto at 416.481.7901 or in Burlington at 416.433.9793. She can be reached by email at cindy@clperformancetraining.com.