Top 3 winter running injuries and how to prevent them

Winter means colder temperatures, harder surfaces and uneven terrain. These conditions can  lead to a host of running injuries if not properly planned for. A tight, cold muscle forced to  contract at high intensity is vulnerable to injury. Running on ice and snow requires different  muscle activation than running on a clear train, requiring the body to use compensation  patterns.  

1. Groin injuries  

Injury to the group of muscles in the inner thigh, the adductors, is a common occurrence with  winter running. Slippery surfaces and uneven terrain can cause us to lose our footing while  running, causing our leg to slip out from under us. When this happens, the groin muscles  become overstretched and overloaded, leading to strain and possible tear.  

2. Ankle and knee sprains  

Running on uneven terrain requires activation of our ankle stabilizers, particularly the peroneals  and tibialis posterior. These muscles are used for stability and motion control. When you run on  uneven surfaces, you shift your heel strike and forces are then absorbed by your ankle  stabilizers. Repeated inversion and eversion of the ankle by running in other people’s footprints  can cause sprain or strain to the ankle joints.  

3. Re-activation of Plantar Fasciitis/Achilles Tendonitis  

Hard, icy surfaces put more stress on each footstrike. These greater forces are then absorbed  by the plantar fascia and the achilles.  

How to prevent winter running injuries 

Runners often lack hip mobility and strength in the lateral direction. Throughout the summer  months, we run generally in a straight line with little lateral movement. When our body is  challenged in the lateral direction we are predisposed to injury if we lack the supporting  strength and mobility. The gluteus medius is the primary muscle for lateral hip stability. By  working this muscle along with the muscles of the core, you can potentially prevent groin  strains. Incorporating mobility of hip flexors and groin muscles is also important as our stride  becomes shorter and choppier during the winter. These altered running mechanics require  more activation of the hip flexors, so taking time for hip flexor and groin mobility becomes  important. 

Invest in footwear with extra cushioning, support and traction. Muscle temperature is directly  related to muscle performance, so dress appropriately. Do a dynamic warm up with mobility  and activation drills indoors before heading out. Dress appropriately to minimize heat loss from  the head, hands and feet.  

 About the Author: 

Dr. Joanna Taylor is a chiropractor with a special interest in sports injuries practicing in Ottawa, ON. She is the owner of Kinetic Edge Health Group, a multidisciplinary clinic offering chiropractic, massage and physiotherapy as well as the Co-Owner of Recover RX, Canada’s first recovery studio for the modern athlete.