How to prevent running injuries
With gyms and sports clubs closed due to lockdown a lot more of us are taking up running or increasing our mileage and what a great way to improve our physical and mental health at the moment.
When a patient turns up at the clinic it is usually because something has gone wrong. Common running related injuries we see are: patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome, gluteal tendinopathy, Achilles tendinopathy, shin splints and plantar fasciitis and in most cases are preventable. Most often the cause of these running injuries is multifaceted, which means they are likely to be a combination of overuse, overtraining, improper shoes or a biomechanical issue.
Here are our top ten tips to stay injury free and keep off the Physio table:
1. Gradually increase your training
Research shows that 60% of running injuries are due to training errors so by following some simple rules you can reduce this risk.
Injuries often happen because the physical stress placed on the body from running is too much for it to cope with at that time. The body will adapt to change but different tissues adapt at different rates and this is why it is important to apply changes to your training gradually and slowly.
A lot of training programmes suggest increasing your mileage by 10% each week and this is good advice. We also recommend you only change ONE aspect of your training at a time, whether it is mileage, frequency of your runs, intensity, speed, surface etc.
2. Strength and conditioning
Running puts 2 - 3 times your body weight through your joints. Strengthening your muscles, tendons and ligaments will give support to these joints and enables them to cope with the forces and stresses placed on them when running.
Strength and conditioning training not only improves your bodies' capability to cope with your increased training demands but will also enhance your performance.
As a runner the most important muscle groups to work on are the Glutes, Core muscles, Quadriceps, Hamstrings and Calves. You don’t need gym equipment to strengthen these muscles, body weight exercises are just as good and we recommend these as a start:
Of course, most of us would rather use this time to lace up and hit the pavement but remember an injury will only interfere with your ability to do this, so taking 10 minutes to incorporate some strength and conditioning exercises is worth the time and effort.
3. Vary your training
As much as you are enjoying running and getting outside, constantly using the same set of muscles in a repetitive motion is more likely to lead to overuse injuries. Why not mix things up and do a Pilates or Yoga session, as this will contribute to your strength and conditioning and encourage use of different muscle groups.
4. Warm up and cool down
It is important to get your muscles ready for a run especially if you have been sitting at a desk all day. I use the analogy of plasticine to describe how the muscles respond to being warmed up. If you take plasticine straight out the packet it is relatively stiff. After rolling it in your hand for a few minutes to warm it up it becomes more pliable and elastic. Warm muscles will enable you to run more efficiently.
Focus on stretching the main muscle groups: Glutes, Hamstrings, Quadriceps and Calves. You may choose to do static or dynamic stretching once your heart rate is raised, but as a general rule stick to stretching each muscle group for 30 seconds.
And, don’t forget the cool down to help your recovery!
5. Allow enough recovery time
When first starting out we recommend running non-consecutive days to allow the body to rest and recover. Rest days are so important to prevent muscles becoming fatigued which leaves them vulnerable to injury.
On the subject of rest, we know how important sleep is for so many body functions but, in regards to running, studies have shown that injury rates rise when your sleep drops below 8 hours a night so make sure you get the ZZZZzzz you need!
6. Fuel up
Correct nutrition enhances performance, reduces fatigue onset, optimises recovery and supports the immune system, all of which help prevent injury and illness.
With running, your energy needs will increase so ensure your diet is filled with healthy and nutritious foods to meet these needs and to help your body repair and recover.
7. Run in the right footwear
When choosing a pair of running shoes the basic rules are to make sure they fit properly, that they are comfortable and they are of good quality. Don’t run in old shoes and we advise you to change your running shoes every 400 – 500 miles. Looking for a new running shoe can be overwhelming but don’t be tempted by the latest fashion. A speciality running shop is a good place to get advice.
8. Running posture
This is a blog topic in itself! As a start we advise that you find a comfortable running posture that works for you. Everyone has their own unique running style but we do have a couple of tips to help you run more efficiently. Be mindful that your shoulders are not hunched over, as you will have more difficulty breathing and this may also cause your lower back to ache. Also avoid overstriding as this increases the load on the knee joints and means your legs have to work harder as a breaking force, as well as accelerators.
9. Address previous injuries
Injuries can leave you with a weakness which makes that body area more vulnerable to further injury or may cause a biomechanical imbalance. It is important you address this before increasing your training. Your Physiotherapist can guide and support you with this.
10. Listen to your body
This is something we are not always good at. If you feel tired or have a cold, do an easy run or have a rest day. Running when you are feeling physically below par, for any reason, can lead to inefficient running form and you are therefore more vulnerable to injury.
Also, don’t keep running through those niggles as this is your body telling you that you may need to ease off a little. Don’t let a niggle develop into an injury so seek advice from your Physiotherapist.
One run can change your day, many runs can change your life!