How Your Mindset Can Play a Role in Injury Prevention

Sometimes, an obsession with running can raise your injury risk. Here’s how to recognize it.Research published by the Technische Universiteit Eindhoven in the Netherlands says your mindset could play a major role in reducing injury risk.

Researchers found a link between lower injury risk and the ability to detach from running, whereas an obsessively passionate mindset was linked to worse health outcomes.

The study includes a list of statements to help you figure out your psychological view on running.

As a long-distance runner, you probably aim to do everything you can to prevent injury. You build your mileage gradually in your training, plan for rest days, strength train, and change your shoes once they’ve maxed out on mileage. But do you pay attention to your mindset when it comes to preventing injuries? According to research published by the Technische Universiteit Eindhoven in the Netherlands, that could play a major role in reducing injury risk.“How you view and manage your running from a psychological perspective appears to be important for which health outcomes you’ll experience from your sport,” Luuk van Iperen, Ph.D., researcher at the Human Performance Management group at the university tells Runner’s World. “There are good practices that can affect injury risk and fatigue associated with long-distance running.”

The Role Your Mindset Plays in Injury Risk and Prevention

Looking at more than 1,000 runners included in two studies, Iperen and his fellow researchers analyzed the effectiveness on injury prevention of functional self-regulatory mechanisms. He defines this self-regulation as a blend of physical, cognitive, and emotional components. In terms of psychology, these mechanisms include the ways runners cope with the demands of the sport.

They found a link between lower injury risk and certain mindsets, including the ability to “detach” from running. Being able to detach from running means you’re able to stop being cognitively and emotionally occupied with the sport when not training. 

“Being obsessively passionate seems to link to both worse management of one’s running efforts, as well as worse health outcomes,” says Iperen. “Make sure you remain flexible in your efforts.”

This doesn’t mean trying to turn off your enthusiasm for the sport, he clarifies. In the research, Iperen and his team separated passion into two categories: obsessive and harmonious. The latter is characterized by flexibility and balance with other parts of your life—such as skipping a run on your training plan if your body needs rest, or making sure you don’t miss social gatherings or time with family due to running—while obsession involves more rigidity. How can you know the difference? Control, he says.

“If you feel like you’re lacking control over your efforts, that implies you’re out of balance with your passion, and that could increase injury risk,” he noted. For example, you may skip rest days, keep running even though you feel fatigued, and increase mileage too quickly if you have a more obsessive mindset toward running and less control over your commitment to hitting every workout.

How to Know if Your Mindset is Putting You at Risk of Injury

To help runners assess their own psychological perspective, the researchers developed a test with 12 statements—available in the appendix of the full study—that asks how often runners agree with sentiments like these:

If I could, I would only engage in running.

I can’t mentally distance myself from running.

After running, I don’t shake off the physical exertion from running.

I have trouble focusing my emotions on aspects other than running.

After running, I don’t tend to put all thoughts about running aside.

Strong or frequent agreement with these statements can imply a runner may be at higher risk for the “obsessive passion” that might lead to injury and fatigue. 

That doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get injured if you’re deep into the running obsession—after all, the weeks leading up to a marathon or other race can get pretty intense and focused for many runners and tend to take over the psyche—but Iperen says that taking mental breaks can be helpful for reducing your risk level. That might include simple strategies like reading a book or magazine, meditating, spending time with friends, or even working.

The Role Your Mind Plays in Dealing with Current Injuries

Using psychological strategies to prevent injury may be helpful, but what about when you’re already injured? That can create a tricky balance. You might want to keep challenging yourself and push through the pain, but you need to recognize if doing that will worsen your injury, says Clint Soppe, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, and orthopedic consultant for the LA Galaxy team. 

Some ways to tell if you’re overdoing it, he suggests, include pain that’s sharp instead of a dull ache, and if pain persists for more than a few minutes once you stop running.

Your mindset and your larger running strategy should include knowing when to stop yourself from running, especially if you’re experiencing pain—which Soppe says is often a sign your body is sending as a way to get you to change what you’re doing.

This is usually the case with stress fractures, for example, a common running injury, Soppe tells Runner’s World. Because these fractures happen over time due to microtrauma to the bone, your mindset needs to include awareness about how your body is feeling on each run, not just in general, he says, so you can recognize the pain and take a few days off or seek help before it becomes something that really sidelines you.

“You can definitely get into a psychological frame of mind where you ignore signs of problems and brush them off as minor aches and pains, particularly if you’ve been running for a long time,” Soppe adds. “That’s true with stress fractures, but also for any type of potential issue. You really need to pay attention to mobility throughout the body and adjust as needed, because you can’t just think your way out of injury. Your mindset should be: What is happening with my body today, and how can I support that?”

posted Saturday August 6th
by Runner’s World