Injuries in runners; a systematic review on risk factors and sex differences

PLoS One. 2015 Feb 23;10(2):e0114937. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0114937. eCollection 2015.


Background: The popularity of running continues to increase, which means that the incidence of running-related injuries will probably also continue to increase. Little is known about risk factors for running injuries and whether they are sex-specific.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to review information about risk factors and sex-specific differences for running-induced injuries in adults.

Search strategy: The databases PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL and Psych-INFO were searched for relevant articles.

Selection criteria: Longitudinal cohort studies with a minimal follow-up of 1 month that investigated the association between risk factors (personal factors, running/training factors and/or health and lifestyle factors) and the occurrence of lower limb injuries in runners were included.

Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers' independently selected relevant articles from those identified by the systematic search and assessed the risk of bias of the included studies. The strength of the evidence was determined using a best-evidence rating system. Sex differences in risk were determined by calculating the sex ratio for risk factors (the risk factor for women divided by the risk factor for men).

Main results: Of 400 articles retrieved, 15 longitudinal studies were included, of which 11 were considered high-quality studies and 4 moderate-quality studies. Overall, women were at lower risk than men for sustaining running-related injuries. Strong and moderate evidence was found that a history of previous injury and of having used orthotics/inserts was associated with an increased risk of running injuries. Age, previous sports activity, running on a concrete surface, participating in a marathon, weekly running distance (30-39 miles) and wearing running shoes for 4 to 6 months were associated with a greater risk of injury in women than in men. A history of previous injuries, having a running experience of 0-2 years, restarting running, weekly running distance (20-29 miles) and having a running distance of more than 40 miles per week were associated with a greater risk of running-related injury in men than in women.

Conclusions: Previous injury and use of orthotic/inserts are risk factors for running injuries. There appeared to be differences in the risk profile of men and women, but as few studies presented results for men and women separately, the results should be interpreted with caution. Further research should attempt to minimize methodological bias by paying attention to recall bias for running injuries, follow-up time, and the participation rate of the identified target group.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Running / injuries*
  • Sex Factors

Grants and funding

This study was financially supported by the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMw), grant no. 50-50310-98-156.