Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

Prevalence of Injury and Illnesses During Ultra-marathon Running

April 27, 2016

Over the last 5-10 years ultra marathon running has grown in popularity with pavement and trail races popping up throughout the West.  Ultra trail running events are described as distances greater than a marathon, in mountainous terrain, and involving elevation changes.  Authors report a 5200% increase in these events between 1978 and 2008 (Hoffman et al. 2010).  In 2008 alone over 2000 athletes finished 161 km races and many of these athletes finished >3 in a year (Hoffman et al. 2010).  In Colorado, the annual Leadville 100 remains a popular event for Coloradans and American athletes alike.   Due to its’ recent popularity not much is known regarding the illnesses and injuries facing these ultra athletes.  

A recent study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine sought to identify the injuries and illnesses among athletes completing a 65 km race involving a total elevation change of 4000 meters (Vernillo et al. 2016).  204 of 234 runners completed the race and of the 204, 85 agreed to take part in the study.  At the finish line athletes were interviewed for injuries and illnesses sustained during the race.  Each illness or injury was considered either major (unable to compete) or minor (able to compete but with limitations).  

A total of 132 injuries and illnesses were documented by the authors with the majority of athletes complaining of > 2 areas of concern.  1 in 2 of these were due to a medical illness including hypothermia, heat illness, dehydration, fatigue, and cramping while 1 in 3 were due to musculoskeletal injury.  The majority of these injuries were documented in the lower extremity including heel pain, knee pain, leg pain, ankle sprains, and knee sprain/strains.  

Thankfully the majority of these injuries and illnesses were minor in nature.  Unfortunately did not capture the major injuries sustained by individuals who were not able to complete the race.  This data will help to develop further evidence on how best to prevent these injuries in the future.