As an Osteopathic Practitioner and a runner, I regularly diagnose and treat running injuries, most commonly: knee pain, hip pain, calf strains, plantar fasciitis, shin splints and lower back pain. Running injuries are usually due to a number of factors including high training loads, poor technique and types of footwear. Read on to find out more.
Key postural tips: keep your torso upright, lead with your hips, don't over-stride (i.e. having your feet not landing way in front of your knees), try to land softly on your feet and don't let your knees knock together.
Resistance training- build your strength!
Strength training can improve your running form (muscle strength helps to make joints more stable, and correct your form). For example, if your knees drop in towards each other, this could be due to weak gluteal muscles, so this can be altered by strengthening your gluteal muscles and learning to recruit the muscles when running. Strong muscles, ligaments, and tendons help to protect your joints against impact and can help to develop a more consistent gait.
Shoes and Insoles.
If you have flat-arches in your feet, you may benefit from wearing insoles but over the counter insoles can be just as effective as costume made ones. If you have bare-foot shoes, be sure to gradually transition into the shoes as it requires a degree of adaptation from your body.
This is essential, as it enables time for the body to prepare for physical exertion. Additionally, a warm up allows for more blood, oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to your muscles, thereby optimising your performance. You don't need to do anything extravagant, a warm up can simply consist of a slower and lower intensity of exercise. For example, start by walking, then a fast paced walk and then a slow jog. A warm up should take a minimum of five minutes, but ideally ten minutes. Avoid passive stretches in which you assume a position and hold it, because this can lead to muscle tears.
After your run, take time to cool down. Walk at a medium to slow pace to allow for the removal of by-products from muscle contraction to be removed. A build up of waste products in the muscles (such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid- which can make your muscles feel achey).
It may be incredibly tempting to dive straight into running, especially if you already have a good level of fitness and a history of running. However, your body constantly adapts to stresses and the movements you do, enabling specific muscles and connective tissue to strengthen- so allow it time to adapt!
Gradually increase the volume.
This is something that people find hard to judge and it really does depend on your current activity level and how long it has been since you exercised. During the first few runs you should not focus on the result but instead listen to how your body feels. If you feel pain in your joints, do not push through it, reduce the intensity or maybe start to cool down. Try again tomorrow! Ideally you should increase your exercise load/ volume by no more than 10% a week. For example, if you went running for 10 minutes, try 11 minutes the next week!
Vary the type of exercise.
You can still increase your cardiovascular fitness by doing other exercises. Try to integrate low impact exercise such as hiking, swimming and cycling into your training programme, to take some strain away from your joints. Variation in the type of exercise will actually increase your running performance as you are more likely to challenge your body to stimulate a change.
It doesn't matter how fit you are, rest days are essential. This doesn't justify you sitting down all day. A rest day simply means that you are not placing excess physical exertion on the body. So do low impact/ intensity activities such as swimming and cycling are great.
Water is essential to optimise your metabolic rate. You lose water throughout your workouts via sweating and breathing. Water is also important to allow for for the removal of by-products of metabolism to be removed from the muscles; dehydration is a reason for fainting, increased appetite, fatigue and muscle cramps.
Eat well to promote recovery.
A wholesome, balanced diet increases your body's rate of recovery and allows for adaptations to occur. Carbohydrates are used to refuel glycogen stores in the muscles and are essential as they are the only source of fuel for your brain. Protein is used to build and repair muscles, bones and connective tissue. Vitamins and minerals from fresh fruits and vegetables are used for every metabolic function in the body but vitamins C, E and Omega 3 (which you can get from walnuts, flax seeds and hemp) are especially powerful antioxidants which help to combat any oxidative stress from the physical activities.
Don't lose joint mobility from doing repetitive activities!
Stretch and cool down post-workout. Many exercises involve repetitive motions, contracting and shortening muscles groups. Running, predominantly recruits the hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstring muscles. Which if not stretched, influence your biomechanics and loading through the joints, that could increase your risk of injury. Tight muscles and restricted joints have reduced shock-absorbing properties, Osteopathic treatment can help to reduce your risk of injury by improving your joint and muscle quality of movement. Don't wait for an injury to occur before asking for help.