Differences in anatomy and biomechanics, as well as hormonal cycles, mean that women can be more prone to specific injuries. Knowing potential weaknesses is the first step in preventing them
Anatomical differences between men and women can have a real impact on our running – and especially on running-related injuries. We differ not only in their anatomy, physiology and body composition but also in our biomechanics. The physically female body seems to react to running in a specific way that can be both beneficial and detrimental to overall health and wellbeing.
“Most importantly for women, running promotes the production of potent oestrogen, a hormone that’s essential for preventing the development of uterine, breast and colon cancer,” says Anna Kosciuk, sport scientist at NURVV. “It’s been found to increase bone density, which is crucial for delaying osteoporosis and related fractures.”
One of the negative impacts of running on the female body is that it increases the risk of injury. “Injuries occur due to biomechanical traits that females exhibit more commonly than males, and due to hormone levels associated with the menstrual cycle,” Anna adds.
“Biomechanically, females show a greater hip adduction and internal rotation of the hip during steps. Increased knee valgus and an internal rotation of the knee is also a problem that’s caused by reduced glute and single leg strength.”
Evidence suggests that running during certain phases of the menstrual cycle increases the likelihood of traumas due to greater joint laxity. “In some phases of the cycle, females are four to six times more likely to sustain ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury than males,” says Anna.
Running is one of the main sports where the prevalence of injuries is incredibly high. The bad news is that a lot of those injuries occur due to wear and tear of the body over time. There are, however, things every female runner can consider to mitigate those risks.
“Most importantly,” says Anna, “female runners should always pay close attention to their training load. Everybody is different, so it’s hard to say exactly what mileage runners should stick to on a weekly basis. Top running coaches recommend avoiding sudden increases in running distance (<10% per week) and building up weekly distance gradually, ideally following a structured training plan that allows the progression but also builds in lighter weeks to allow the body to recover.”
Increased soreness, tightness, or pain often suggests that you are doing more than you should. “Women are generally weaker and more flexible than males and a lot of their injuries develop through compensation due to lack of strength. Therefore, I always advise women to engage in some form of strengthening exercise programme,” she says. Yoga, Pilates or simple weight training can help you build lean muscle and minimise injury risks.
To avoid injury, you also must understand your running form. Even though running is a relatively free movement, knowing how it works – which part of your foot strikes the ground first, how quickly you turn over your feet and whether there are any major imbalances between the two body sides – is key to identifying weaknesses in your technique and addressing them through tailored exercise programmes.
“Good footwear is also essential for preventing running injuries,” stresses Anna. “Due to unique foot function, lower leg mobility and the preferred motion pathway that each runner adopts, shoes will perform differently on each runner. Finding what is right for you will protect your body from exhibiting abnormalities in your movement pattern and ensure appropriate alignment of the foot and lower leg.”