ARTICLE: Fear, stress and injury

ARTICLE: Fear, stress and injury

If you’ve ever had one of those injuries that seems to ‘come and go’ or be ‘ok one day worse the next’ even when you’re not running on it, then there might be an explanation.

When the body prepares for a stressful or dangerous situation it creates noradrenaline (the fight or flight hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone). This serves a function: preparing the body to repair potential wounds by stimulating the inflammatory factors needed to repair tissues.

It’s easy to see how this is a disaster for an athlete with a long-term injury even if the main tissue damage is long repaired. Stress or fear of potential injury will trigger the hormones mentioned above, tense the muscles and you may well experience pain and swelling completely out of proportion with the actual tissue damage remaining. The truth is your tissues may be completely repaired and ‘ready to run’ yet aching from the inflammatory response – once bitten, twice shy. Call it ‘psychosomatic’ or ‘in your head’ – it doesn’t matter, brain and body fortunately work together.

What can you do about this right now?

  1. Firstly, look at the general stress levels in your life and take steps to reduce them.
  2. Second look at whether you are anxious before or after a run – or as I often see – the moment you ‘think about’ returning to training. I have literally seen athletes get a flare-up at the mere prospect of returning to running ‘the following week’. Anxiety, nervousness, or pure fear is what you’re looking for.
  3. The best way to overcome this obstacle is to orchestrate the most relaxing environment around ‘the next run’ or ‘the first run after injury’. Pick your favourite route on a terrain you love and in a setting that is peaceful. Pick a distance and a pace you’re 100% comfortable with and go for a run as early in the day as possible – before checking emails, phones or anything else so that nothing stressful lands on your plate Another great strategy is going with a friend or a bunch of friends who will distract your mind (just not a fast competitive one!). Whatever it takes you need to create positive memories linked to your running.
  4. Avoid negative people like the plague – especially people in authority who label you ‘injury-prone’ or ‘too old for running’. They’ll only fan the flames. There is a reason a particular nasty tactic for throwing your competitors off their game is to ask them before a race starts “How’s the injury coming along?”.

Remember these are just suggestions and each of you will have different life situations to deal with and different advice may apply – your ‘golden zone’ might be Saturday at 14:00 – whatever works. Happy running and let us know if this was helpful to you.



Also published on Medium.

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Director and coach at Borg Coaching Services
Rene Borg is the head coach of Glendalough AC and a passionate runner competing over all distances and terrains.

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