It can happen at any time; you’re in the middle of your run and you suddenly feel a sharp pain in your knee that keeps growing with each stride. Running is a hard-impact exercise that without being careful, can lead to many long-term injuries due to the repetitive nature and overuse of the same muscles and joints. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), 50 percent of runners experience running-related injuries every year. Following these tips will help make sure your training goes uninterrupted!
1. Proper Shoes
Wearing the proper running shoes is one of the most important factors to consider. Whether you’re running a 5k or a marathon, getting fitted for the right shoes is a must to avoid an injury. If you’re running in the wrong shoe for your foot, this could lead to a lot of issues and injuries from knee pain to plantar fasciitis. When you go to a specialty running store, an expert can evaluate how you run typically by asking you to run on a treadmill and measuring your foot. Depending on if you have supination (underpronation) or overpronation, you might need more of a neutral or stability shoe. Overpronation is when the foot rolls inward. You also want to typically look for a shoe that is either a half size or full size bigger than your normal shoe size due to your feet swelling as you run. Running with the right pair of shoes can help avoid quite a few trips to the doctor and a lot of Band-Aids due to nasty blisters. It’s important to also keep track of the mileage you’re putting on your shoes. Once you’ve piled on about 400 to 500 miles, it’s time to purchase a new pair.
2. Listen to Your Body
Your body will definitely start communicating with you before, during and after a run and it’s important to listen up! If you ignore any sharp pains in your legs or anywhere else on your body and continue to run at your same pace, you could be asking for trouble. It’s also important to know the difference between any usual aches, tightness, being sore from a previous run and a pain that could lead to more of a serious injury. If you have a shooting pain in your heel or in your knee for instance, running through that pain is not a good idea. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), when you are first injured, the RICE method — rest, ice, gentle compression and elevation – can help speed your recovery. A common injury is with a runner’s iliotibial band (IT band). If you’re experiencing pain right on the outside of your knee, your IT band might be to blame. You can prevent illiotibial band injuries by doing a lot of different stretches and by using a foam roller to work out all of those post-run knots and tightness. If you’re experiencing a lot of pain and tightness, either shorten your stride, slow down your pace or stop running altogether if you’re experiencing a lot of pain in a particular area to prevent it from getting worse.
While everyone is different with their stretching routine, the important thing is that you do it! Stretching after a run will loosen up those tight muscles and your IT band in particular. Your IT band is a tendon that runs along the outside of your leg. It connects from the top of your pelvic bone to just below your knee. Doing stretches to loosen up your hamstrings, hip flexors, IT band and knees will help improve flexibility. If you want to take stretching to the next level, yoga is your answer to improving your flexibility and strengthening the muscles that can leave you injured if they’re not strong enough. The pigeon pose is a great move that will open up your hip flexors. IT Band Syndrome (ITBS) is one of the most common injuries among distance runners and can be prevented if you strengthen your hip abductors. An association with weak gluteus medius muscles has been found as well in many runners with ITBS. Performing a glute stretch is a great way to loosen up your IT band. First, you want to lie on your back with one leg flat on the floor. Next, pull the opposite knee up to your chest and across your body until you feel a stretch in your buttock and outer hip. The lateral hip stretch is another move that is great post-run. This stretch lengthens the tensor fascia latae muscle that is located outside of the hip. For the lateral hip stretch, sit on the floor with one leg straight out in front of you with the opposite leg bent and placed on the outside of the other knee. Use your hands to apply pressure by gently pulling the bent knee over the other one.
4. Training Technique Errors
If you’re training for your next race and you’re not exactly sticking to one particular plan, you could risk getting yourself hurt. Keeping track of your mileage and slowly increasing it over time is the best way to train rather than rapidly. Hills also cause more stress on your knees and ankles, so if you are a running newbie or still working at strengthening those muscles, you might want to avoid running up really steep hills at first. The key is to gradually work up to your goals, not smash into them within a short period of time. During training, you should also evaluate your running style to help prevent any injuries. According to a recent study performed by the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 19 patients diagnosed with chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS), an exercise-induced muscle and nerve condition that causes pain and swelling, ran with a forefoot running technique for a six-week period that led to decreased lower leg post-running intracompartmental pressure values, improved running performances and self-assessed leg condition.
Increasing your mileage too quickly can also be a recipe for sustaining running-related injuries. According to a study conducted by the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, novice runners who progressed their running distance by more than 30% over a two-week period seemed to be more vulnerable to distance-related injuries than runners who increased their running distance by less than 10%. Other running-related injuries can be due to your running pace or sprint training.
Knowing when to rest will also prevent injuries. Runners typically don’t like to be told to not run, but your muscles need time to recover! Mixing your exercise regimen with cross-training will help strengthen your muscles and help those already fatigued legs. Taking a break from running is vital to help give your muscles time to rebuild. During these rest periods, focus on stretching or going for a walk. If you don’t allow your body to get some rest, you could overtrain resulting in losing not only your strength, but speed as well.
There’s no surefire way to avoid all running-related injuries, however these tips can at least help as you clock in those miles!
- American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
- Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine
- Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy