It’s Spring!  How to avoid change of season injuries.

By: Paula Burchat, BA, RMT, CSMTA(SF) • May 3, 2019

Okay people don’t go crazy.  I know the warm weather is here and most of us have been cabin-feverish since the first snow fall of winter.  We’ve had 5 months of snow, ice and cold temperatures so be kind to yourself and allow time to adjust to our changes in season.  Anytime there is a change to your workout, your effort and your environment you are increasing your risk of injury.  This is new information for your body, and it needs time to adjust.

Your body likes a normal routine and asking it work in new conditions takes time for it to adapt.  Just like when you are given a new task at work or when you change jobs completely you need a transition period to learn about your new environment (how you fit into the team, what your job requirements are, commuting time to a new office, etc.) before you will be performing at your best again.

Changing environment

Any time you have a change to your environment you need to think about how you will adapt to it:  this includes clothing, terrain, temperature, altitude, etc.  These can sometimes be obvious like going from running or walking on a treadmill to roads; flat roads to hilly ones; or roads to trails.   It can be quite subtle like changing from one pair of shoes to another (winter boots to shoes, old running shoes to new, one brand of shoes to another).

While it may seem beneficial to go from icy, snow covered streets to clear streets this too is a change and your body may need time to adapt. You suddenly have a much harder, unforgiving surface that is very stable as oppose to a softer, slippery, inconsistent one.  Your body needs time to understand this new surface and learn how to react to it.

Changing activities

If you’ve been doing one sport all winter liking cross country skiing, you may be very fit but changing activities to running or cycling takes time to adapt your tissues to the new movement patterns.   First there are aerobic system changes to the new physical activity; next the muscles and the fascia get used to the new movements and body position; and last the fragile tendons and ligaments adapt to the new stress loads.  This can take several weeks to occur.

Change in effort

While shedding all that heavy winter clothing can make you feel light as a feather and ready to fly across the clear roads, you can easily push your body to hard, too fast, too soon.   This is a simple recipe for overload.  It’s hard to hold back because we feel so good with the sun shining on our faces, but it’s important to follow a plan and not allow speed and intensity to increase too quickly.

Change in load bearing

Consider also load bearing changes on your legs when changing terrain or activities or effort.  This can be significant.  With cross country skiing, the skis are bearing your weight across the snow.  It is a similar situation for cycling or swimming.  There is very low impact to these activities. With a sport like running however you are bearing 2-4 times your weight with each step.  That’s a lot of force for your feet, legs and back to absorb.

The same goes with adding hills to a running program.  You are adding significantly more weight bearing (4 to 10 times your body weight crashing down on your feet and quads) so taking time to slowly add hills to your training is important.

Why exactly does change lead to injury? 

In many cases that I see, a client may have an existing minor injury that may present as a repeated painful spot that goes away after the activity is over, with some rolling or stretching or rest.  She may be dealing with it or ignoring it and hoping it will go away.  This is like having a weak link in a chain that continues to work when the same, regular pressure is placed on it, but it is steadily fraying.  While her training environment and conditions are familiar and there is a consistent routine, her body continues to manage.  Then, like the straw that broke the camels back, a small change in the environment is too much for her body to accommodate anymore.  The frayed link in a fragile tissue chain can’t handle the stress anymore and breaks.  This is typical of repetitive strain injury.

How do you avoid change of season injuries?

When there is change to your activities, training conditions, shoes, etc., you need to go through a transition period.  You need a few weeks of easy transition to allow your soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, etc.) to feel comfortable with the new conditions and change in function.  This doesn’t mean stopping or changing what you are doing significantly but may simply mean moderating your effort a bit.

Specifically, when change occurs it’s a good time to hold back on any increases in mileage for a couple of weeks.  Bring the intensity down and plateau your effort for a few weeks to give your body time to adapt.

For example, a cross country skier who is starting to run again after months on skis needs to remind his legs what it feels like to carry the load of his body.  This can take a few to several weeks.  Just because you have the strength and aerobic capacity to ski 30 km doesn’t mean you should start with a 20k run.  Start with low mileage and build your base properly over several weeks to allow for proper tissue adaptation.

With a change like adding hills into a running or cycling program, start with long but not steep hills at a slower speed to build endurance for the first few weeks.  Over the next few weeks add in shorter, steeper hills going at faster speeds to gain speed and power.

Whenever there is change there is an increased risk of injury.  Give yourself time to adapt to anything new to your workout environment or training plan.  Your body needs time for fragile soft tissue to adapt to new stress loads.  Moderating your effort and mileage for a short period of time can save you from having to taking time off due to injury down the road.

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