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A guide to injury-free running

By Kelly Marshall BSc (Hons), Dip PT, NASM, SFS, IFS, CES

Kelly Marshall

The new way to improve flexibility & prevent injury

The new year can often spur a new start with heightened motivation for health and fitness goals and running is a popular option and a valuable (and cost-effective) tool! However, figures suggest that approximately 70% of runners often sustain injuries which set them back or can even prevent them from actually achieving their mileage or weight loss targets.

The majority of running-related injuries are a result of overusing the body mechanics, which leads to soft tissue structures (i.e. muscle, ligament, tendon) breaking down as they get tired. The solution is PREVENTION through the following:

  • Make sure you only progress your mileage by no more than 10% per week
  • Make sure you listen to your body - i.e. if you feel pain DON'T run through it! It is a natural protective reponse to highlight something IS wrong!
  • Try to maximise the amount of time you spend running on soft, flat terrain and minimise running time spent on uneven surfaces.
  • Respond intellgently to pain - follow the R.I.C.E priniciples (Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate the painful area) and make sure you rest for 2-3 days. If the pain continues for more than a week then get it assessed by a suitable musculoskeletal specialist (i.e. sports therapist, physiotherapist, sports medicine doctor or corrective exercise specialist).
  • Don't do more than 45 miles a week as there is a limited amount of supportive research for this kind of mileage and a growing wealth of research highlighting the increased risks associated with this degree of joint impact.
  • Try to stagger your training (running and strength training) so you incoporate 'easy' training days after your 'hard' training days.
  • Change your running shoes every 500 miles as after this kind of distance even the best running shoes start to lose their shock absorbing ability.
  • Don't just run - ensure you train for running (see exercises provided below) to improve the stability of your joints and prepare your body for the impacting demands of running. Strengthening exercises can prevent muscle imbalances that lead to running injuries, here are two simple examples:

1) Tibialis Anterior (shin muscle) Toe tap lifts

This is so simple yet very effective, especially for those who get pain, tightness and pressure in the shin area (often given the non-descript term of 'shin-splints'). This also helps lower leg muscle balance and maintains calf flexibility.

In a supported standing position simply tap both feet on the floor by lifting the front of the foot but keeping the heels consantly in contact with the floor. Look to make the movement as big as possible and continue until a burning sensation is achieved in the front of the shin that ceases the exercise.

2) Walking Lunge with rotation

This exercise is superb as a lunge closely mimics the mechanics of running, in terms of muscle recruitment and also targets all the muscles in the lower body as well as the core musculature, (important for preveting back pain as a result of running).

You need to perform a standard bodyweight lunge, where you take an exagerated step forwards, lower yourself to achieve 90 degrees at both knees (see figure 1) and then push through the front leg to step forward out of the lunge. This is then repeated with the other leg leading.

To add the second part of this exercise (the 'rotation' part) you need to rotate your arms, approximately 45 degrees, while you are in the down position of the lunge (figure 2). This places more 'time under tension' on the thighs (quadriceps muscles), which enhances endurance strength in the muscles; improved joint stability at the knees and ankles and promotes a more prepared abdominal area for coping with the rotational stress of running (particularly exacebated as we tire).

You could combine these two exercises together to create a mini-prehabilitation program, for running and this could be used as preperation.

Exercise How many repetitions? How often?
Tibialis anterior toe tap lifts Aim for as many as you can manage Do these exercises together as a program, 2-3 times a week, not on consecutive days
Walking lunge with rotation 6-10 each leg

Disclaimer
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