What is Footstrike Hemolysis?

Isn’t it funny how we start the thought process or researching of one thing and it leads us to something else?  Last week, I was thumbing thru a book in my library on ways to “Boost Your Immune System” in search of ways to keep my athletes healthy.  While reading up on the therapeutic effects of different vitamins and minerals and specifically iron and the conditions of anemia, I came across a term I was unfamiliar with called “footstrike hemolysis”.  Perhaps, you’re asking yourself the same thing I did which was, “What is Footstrike Hemolysis?

Iron and its Function in the Body

Let’s first tackle the importance and function of iron in the body.  In a nutshell, without getting too biologically descriptive, iron in the blood presents itself as red blood cells and is called hemoblogin.  Hemoglobin, or these red blood cells, is essentially what carries oxygen thru out our bodies.  And more specifically from the lungs to our tissues, like a muscle.   It is our body’s requirement for respiration (breathing) and energy metabolism.  Iron was highlighted as a mineral responsible for maintaining the immune system in the book.

Of course, as runners, we rely on ample stores of iron in our blood in order to not only stay healthy but to be able to run at our best.  If we’re low on this essential mineral than we can suffer from what’s called iron deficiency, or anemia.

Causes of Anemia and “Footstrike Hemolysis”

There are various causes of iron deficiency or anemia.  A few of the obvious are blood loss, not consuming enough of the daily recommended amount, iron absorption problems, and some other various medical conditions.  You can do more research of your own and certainly my surface level recap here is not at all all-inclusive.

However, while reading about iron deficiency and runner’s anemia the term “footstrike hemolysis” was introduced to me.  It’s somewhat self-descriptive in its name.  Hemo meaning blood and lysis meaning breakdown.   The red blood cells called hemoglobin sharing the root of the word hemolysis, and thus rupture or destruction of the red blood cells.   And of course, footstrike just as it sounds.

Another name for “footstrike hemolysis” is “march hemoglobinuria”, which was discovered and coined during the 1800’s from an army physician who had observed a soldier who had completed some arduous field marching exercises and thus became anemic thru the impact of his footstrikes breaking down the red blood cells in his body.   We as runner’s can suffer from the same “runner’s anemia” or impact destruction of red blood cells.

In extreme cases, as documented by scientists and sports physicians, long-distance track runners have been reported to have blood in their urine.  Or in other extreme cases, long-distance runners or marathoners reporting blood in the urine after a race from the repeated footstrike trauma.

Runner’s Specific Precautions

As you can deduce, it is easy to understand how our repeated footstrikes while running long distances may be the culprit to our feelings of fatigue, lethargy, and tiredness through “runner’s anemia”.

A few precautions that can help you avoid this annoying debilitator to peak performance, are to make sure you’re replacing your shoes periodically and not running on worn out soles.  A general rule of thumb is to replace shoes every 300-400 miles for heavier or larger framed runners or 400-500 miles for lighter more petite runners.

Change up your running surfaces!  The harder the surface, i.e. asphalt or concrete, the more impact and destruction there is to the red blood cells.  Consider a pea gravel trail or softer trail surface.  Perhaps even consider a grassy park or someplace off the beaten path.  Be creative!  Think cross country running!!

Also, if you are female you may be more susceptible to anemia due to menstruation cycles.  Read more pertaining to this thru this article written by Kathleen Woods for Women’s Running.

Kathleen gives the reminder of food consumption and dietary recommendations.

“Recommended foods that are iron fortified include red meat, eggs, spinach, oatmeal, oysters, dried fruit and whole grain or enriched cereals. Vitamin C helps to absorb iron, so a tall glass of OJ with a nice lean steak could be just what the doctor ordered. Iron supplements are also available over the counter at your local pharmacy, but always consult with your doctor before adding any extra supplements to your diet.”

Great Articles on Footstrike Hemolysis or Hemolytic Anemia

I’ve attached a few of the articles that I researched that go into more depth on this condition, it’s causes and symptoms, and ways to prevent.

Take care of yourselves runners!  Eat well, recover well, run in the right gear and vary up your surfaces. Happy Coaches Corner Friday!!

Hemolytic Anemia from Footstrikes – A Runner’s Perspective

Two Huge Causes Of Anemia In Female Runners