Seasonal injuries

Why is it that my achilles tendons get tight and sore during the summer months but during the winter I have no trouble with them at all? I first noticed this when I was running at a high level and I tried many of the remedies recommended. I cut the back of my training shoes so that nothing was touching the tendon itself, I stretched it, massaged it, iced it and even gave it ultra sound. All of this kept it under control but it lingered and then disappeared in the winter. Soon it was forgotten but then would rear it's head again around June and July the following year.

Although I now do less than half the training that I used to my achilles still follow the same pattern. At first I wondered if it might be that the ground is harder in the summer but that can't be the cause because I do most of my running on the roads in the winter and get off road in the summer. It may surprise you to hear that I don't think it is anything to do with running. I think it's my everyday footwear. You see, in the summer I walk around all day in either sandals or barefoot. In the winter I favour a pair of boots or sturdier shoes with a small heel and that's what it likes -support and a slight heel raise.

Some studies have found that habitual high heel wearers find it painful to walk flat footed because the muscle fibres in their calves shorten by as much as 13%. I only wear high heels once in a blue moon but I do have very high arches and have been told that high arched people also often have tight calves so I guess, when I put a pair of sandals on in the summer or walk around barefoot, my tight calves are being asked to stretch more but they resist and so demand is placed on my poor old achilles tendon. 

I wonder if the physios see certain injuries at particular times of year? I suspect that, during the winter months, more of us become injured through running on slippy, icy surfaces. When you run on slippery roads you typically alter your stride and consequently strain your muscles in unfamiliar ways. One of my training parthers became injured and had to pull out of the London Marathon as he was trying to maintain high mileage through the icy period. The physio put it down to him altering his running gait to cope with these conditions. I got out for a few runs during this time but wherever possible I got off the roads and onto the fells where there was deep snow to tackle. I love running through soft snow and I'm pleased to say that I didn't get injured but it is easy to see how it could contribute to injuries around the hip flexors as you have to work so hard in this region to pick your feet up.

One of the most common injuries that runners suffer are blisters. These tend to plague us when the weather starts to warm up. Apparently up to 40% of marathon runners suffer from blisters. The heels, toes and balls of the feet are the most commonly affected areas. They may seem trivial but can be very painful and stop us from running.

And what may lie in wait for us in the autumn when the cross country season comes around? To effectively deal with the combination of terrain and elements, when running cross-country we tend to use a shorter stride than we might on the road. Depending on the terrain, our primary concern becomes balance and stability and so we adapt our stride. Where a harder running surface will produce greater elasticity in the return of energy from the ground into our legs we don't get this on the softer, off-road trails and are required to produce greater thigh muscle action. This results in a greater overall effort from the abdominal muscles and the lumbar (lower back) to support the leg action. I suspect that the best cross country runners have superior core strength and, if they don't, they may spend time with the physio working in this area.

So the moral of the story? I guess it's to consider the running surface and the weather, how well you are conditioned for both and your choice your footwear.