Predicting injury is said to be the holy grail in the rehab medicine world. Imagine if you could see how someone moved, how they run, or how high they jumped and determine with greater than 90% certainty if someone would be injured throughout the course of a season. Unfortunately, most of the evidence we have regarding injury prediction models is pretty poor and sports scientists and rehab professionals hopelessly can’t agree on which factors are important and which are just noise. Movement screens or prospective injury intake forms can sometimes have some decent correlative data, but are no crystal ball. And if someone is preaching that there is only one correct way to run and you needed perfect symmetry to do it, you can be sure of their false prophet status.
The reality is, the greatest predictor of injury risk that has the best evidence and everyone can agree upon = self-reported stress levels.
If you’ve been running for long, you’ve most likely heard of general principles of training such as a) don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% each week or b) don’t put more than 25% of your weekly mileage on any one day in a week or c) rearfoot strikers are more likely to get injured than forefoot strikers cause, well…ya know, evolution. Certainly some of these principles are reasonable, but they fail to take into account an athlete’s history, their strength, their coping mechanisms, and the total training loads they are putting into their systems. If you’re a strava hound and a typical running nerd who likes to keep track of mileage, total training time, and intensity to predict future success – it may make sense to keep track of your overall wellbeing score.
In a study with Spanish soccer players that examined stress and sleep hygiene – it was concluded that overall stress, or their wellbeing score could predict sleep quality, and that sleep quality was a fairly good predictor of injury risk as well as performance decline.
For many of us, running is our way of relieving stress. But if you find yourself with higher levels of stress than usual and a lack of coping mechanisms, you may want to reevaluate the training intensities and loads that you’re currently putting on your body. Far better to sub yourself out of the game for a short amount of time, than be slammed into the penalty box by a foreseeable injury.
In our current era of high burnout rates, chronic stress, and pandemic uncertainty – it makes sense to take deliberate actions to sleep more and decrease stress levels the best we can. Perhaps that’s running with a friend more often, or hitting up a float tank for 90 minutes of sensory deprivation bliss, or incorporating more meditation into your morning routine. Or my personal favorite, just opting for a forest bath on the trails a little more often.