State runners

Waunakee cross country athletes are among the participants in the UW Health study to determine factors leading to injury.

As high school cross-country athletes begin competing this fall, many in Dane County will participate in surveys before and throughout the season as part of a UW Health study to help researchers determine the causes of running injuries.

Mikel Joachim, a PhD candidate at the UW, is coordinating the study. She said most of her work is with collegiate runners.

“The biggest thing we were seeing is that a history of injury or being injured before was the biggest predictor of getting injured in college,” Joachim said.

Often runners experience sore knees and in some cases stress fractures. What Joachim and her colleagues see is, once these injuries start, they usually recur and happen more frequently.

“What we’re hoping is if we can identify why these injuries are recurring in younger runners, that will really just set them on a trajectory to be healthy through college, regardless of whether they run competitively or not and then also into adulthood, so just to keep them active throughout the lifespan,” Joachim said.

According to an announcement of the study from UW Health, more than a quarter of high school runners will sustain a running-related injury. The risk for injury is also related to running more miles. That’s led parents, coaches and medical professionals to seek guidelines for safe running mileage for young runners as participation in cross-country continues to grow. No data is available on safe running mileage for youth runners, or on how changes in mileage may increase the risk for injury.

Participants will compete short surveys on their mileage, duration and intensity, along with the prior night’s sleep, stress levels and any injuries they may be experiencing.

The study coordinators are close to reaching their goal for participants. With 350 already signed up from more than 20 schools throughout the state, including DeForest, Edgewood, McFarland, Middleton, Stoughton, Sun Prairie and Waunakee high schools, they need just 50 more.

“We’re really excited that we’re on track to get our perfect numbers, and this will be a really big study to give us great data to keep these runners healthy,” Joachim said.

Aaron May, Waunakee High School athletic director, said the researchers reached out to the district in the spring seeking the district administrator’s approval to enroll students. UW Health has provided the school’s training services for more than decade and has reached out for help with other studies, May said.

“We’re hoping it helps athletic trainers and medical professionals get a better understanding of the impact of sleep on training and things like that, so that can lead to better treatment in the future,” May said.

Depending on the outcome, that could lead to an adjustment in training times and running times.

“Maybe there’s a better way to schedule out their training to ensure they’re getting enough sleep maybe to optimize their performance when they’re training,” he added.

Runners often experience overuse-related sports injuries, such as shin splints and stress fractures, May said. While cross county is not a contact sport, it is high impact. He said he is interested in seeing what the study reveals.

“I think there’s a common belief the more sleep you have, the better you are going to perform,” May said. “But you still have to test these things out to make sure that common sense or conventional wisdom is actually true.”

Parents interesting in enrolling their children in the study can contact their high school athletic department to learn more about the research and how their kids can contribute to it.

Recommended for you