Mur­phy’s Lore

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents - Sam Mur­phy tweets @Sam­mur­phyruns

Sam con­sid­ers the big ques­tions: When is an in­jury not an in­jury?

In light of the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity

of our sport, I’ve been won­der­ing re­cently whether we could ar­gue for a unique run­ning-spe­cific sub­def­i­ni­tion of the term ‘in­jury’ in the dic­tionary. It would be a great way to pre­vent those an­noy­ing con­ver­sa­tions we oc­ca­sion­ally have with non-run­ners. ‘Not run­ning to­day?’ ‘No, I’m in­jured.’ ‘Oh! What hap­pened to you?’ The an­swer, of course, is that noth­ing ‘hap­pened’ – not in the sense that fall­ing off a lad­der or wip­ing out on skis ‘hap­pens’. The in­jury just grad­u­ally emerged, like roots on high­lighted hair, un­til its clam­our for at­ten­tion be­came im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore.

The Cam­bridge Dic­tionary de­fines in­jury as ‘phys­i­cal harm or dam­age to some­one’s body caused by an ac­ci­dent or an at­tack’ – but as used by run­ners the term has a dif­fer­ent, more sub­tle mean­ing. This is mostly be­cause, un­like the calami­ties de­scribed above, it is of­ten very dif­fi­cult to put a fin­ger on the cause. Equally, the con­se­quences are far less clear-cut and ob­vi­ous than be­ing en­cased in plas­ter or hob­bling about on crutches for weeks. Run­ners in the mid­dle of a six-mile run have been known to be­moan the fact that they’re in­jured, usu­ally as an ex­pla­na­tion as to why they are ‘tak­ing it easy’. So no, pro­claim­ing in­jury isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the same as say­ing you’re out of the game. (And there’s an­other source of ir­ri­tat­ing con­ver­sa­tion right there: ‘You’re go­ing for a run? But I thought you were in­jured!’)

The essence of the run­ner’s def­i­ni­tion of in­jury would be ‘some­thing per­tain­ing to the mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem that pre­vents a run­ner from per­form­ing to their usual stan­dard’. (Not that catchy, I know; I’d be the first to ad­mit it needs work). The word we most of­ten use as a sub­sti­tute is ‘nig­gle’. The Cam­bridge Dic­tionary de­fines the noun as a ‘small doubt or worry’, though the verb’s mean­ing – ‘to worry some­one slightly, usu­ally for a long time’ some­how seems more fit­ting in a run­ning con­text. While the word ‘nig­gle’ might help you avoid the mis­guided con­cern of non-run­ners, it is, frankly, a lit­tle eu­phemistic and tame when you’re tap­ing up your left leg from thigh to toe. I vote, then, that we stick with in­jury but de­fine it not as a static event or sta­tus but as a po­si­tion along a con­tin­uum – with ‘bro­ken’ at one end and ‘per­fect work­ing or­der’ at the other. In truth, most run­ners – from elite Olympians to oc­ca­sional jog­gers – are rarely en­tirely ei­ther. Mostly, we’re some­where in be­tween.

At this point I have to con­fess that this con­tin­uum idea is not en­tirely my own work. In 1972, an Amer­i­can physi­cian, Dr John Travis, pro­posed an ‘ill­ness­well­ness’ con­tin­uum in medicine. It marked a de­par­ture from the stan­dard health par­a­digm, which seeks to treat symp­toms in or­der to bring a pa­tient back to ‘neu­tral’, where no more ill­ness or in­jury is present. But Travis viewed health as more than the ab­sence of ill­ness and his goal was to move pa­tients fur­ther along the con­tin­uum – be­yond neu­tral – to­wards op­ti­mal health. ‘ Well­ness is never a static state,’ he wrote in his book The Well­ness Work­book. ‘You don’t just get well and stay well. There are de­grees of well­ness, just as there are de­grees of ill­ness.’

The same is true of our run­ning health. And there’s an im­por­tant point here, which might just help you avoid be­com­ing ‘bro­ken’. If you see in­jury as all-or-noth­ing (‘noth­ing’ be­ing the ab­sence of in­jury) you ab­solve your­self of the re­spon­si­bil­ity of tak­ing steps to keep mov­ing to­wards bet­ter strength, mus­cle bal­ance and biome­chan­ics. It al­lows you to ig­nore the signs of an emerg­ing prob­lem by defin­ing them as ‘not an in­jury’ – un­til the switch flicks and you’re out of ac­tion.

On the other hand, plac­ing your­self on the con­tin­uum shows you that there’s al­ways some­thing you could be do­ing to edge a lit­tle fur­ther in the di­rec­tion of ‘per­fect work­ing or­der’. That’s em­pow­er­ing. I look for­ward to ex­plain­ing it to my non-run­ning friends.

Speedy stat

9

The ad­di­tional calo­rie burn per hour when us­ing a stand­ing desk com­pared with sit­ting

Lore

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