Ready to Run?
Running is one of the most popular and accessible sports– and for good reason! The benefits of running on the body and mind are numerous. In the upcoming spring and summer months, it’s a wonderful activity to get you, your family, and your friends outside and active. The only equipment you need is a pair of shoes to step into the sunshine and hit the road or trails. Over the cold winter months, however, many of us dial back or take a break from running completely. Once the sidewalks clear and the temperatures tick up, we’re eager to lace up our shoes and run out the door again…But wait! Not so fast! Are you ready to run?
At least 50% of people who run are sidelined with a running-related injury each year. No one wants to start an activity just to be hurt a few weeks later. Whether you’re trying the activity for the first time or you’ve been running for years, it’s important that you start on the right foot to decrease the risk of injury. Running requires a lot of strength, coordination, and stability. The repetitive nature of the activity can lead to overuse injuries if you don’t appropriately progress your mileage or your muscles aren’t adequately strong for the impact forces that are demanded on the body. One of the best ways to ensure that your body is ready to run is to have your form evaluated and your strength and mobility assessed. A trained professional will be able to identify any weaknesses or imbalances that may predispose you to an injury down the road. You may discover that your body would really benefit from yoga, Pilates, or personal training to be better balanced and ready to run. Don’t wait until something feels tight, painful, or “off” to take charge of your health; be proactive and start preparing your body for healthy running now. Below is a short list of common running injuries and a few tips on ways to prevent them.
Common running injuries (and quick ways to prevent them!)
The plantar fascia runs from the heel, along the arch of the foot, and into the balls of your feet. Heel pain or pain along the arch of the foot, especially when waking up in the morning or after standing for long periods of time, can indicate that your plantar fascia is tight and irritated. A number of factors can contribute to plantar fasciitis including shoes, gait, and weakness or tension in the lower leg.
Rolling your foot on a LaCrosse ball or foot roller. A few minutes in the morning and evening is a good way to check in with any sore or tight spots along the bottom of your foot.
Calf stretch. Press your hands into a wall. Bring one leg back so that your leg is stretched straight back and you’re able to keep your heel on the ground. Lean your body forward until you feel a stretch through the back of your lower leg. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
It’s also a good idea to talk to an expert at a local running store about the appropriate shoes for you depending on your feet, alignment, and the type of terrain you enjoy running on.
The Achilles tendon is the longest tendon in the body, connecting your calf muscles to your heel. It’s a strong, springy band that allows you to transfer force through your body into the ground for push off when walking, running, and jumping. Tendonitis of the Achilles can be felt at the base of your heel (insertional) or anywhere along the tendon (noninsertional). Causes of this injury include tightness in the lower leg muscles, foot or ankle restrictions, or weakness in some of the calf muscles.
Heel raises on a step with a single leg lower. Stand on a step with your heels hanging off. Raise up onto the balls of your feet. Lift one leg and slowly lower your standing leg down so your heel goes beyond the step level. Bring your other foot back to the starting position. Raise up and repeat on the other side. Perform 10-15 repetitions on each leg.
Pain over the front of the patella and/or just below the kneecap is referred to as runner’s knee or patellofemoral pain syndrome. This is an overuse injury that is usually caused by poor alignment, imbalances, or weakness in the hips or quads. A strength, mobility, and biomechanics evaluation is a good way to find where your issues stem from. Strengthening of both the glutes and quadriceps muscles can help avoid irritation to the patellar tendon.
Sit to stand, single leg squat. Sit at the edge of a sturdy chair. Lift one leg off the floor slightly. Lean your torso forward slightly. Press your foot that’s on the floor down and activate through your quads and glute to stand up straight. Repeat on the other leg. Perform 5-10 repetitions on each leg.
Iliotibial (IT) band friction Syndrome
The IT band consists of fibrous tissue that connects the buttock and hip to the outside of the knee. Injury to the IT band usually results from imbalances around the hip and weakness of the gluteal muscles. Irritation is usually felt on the outside of the knee or along the outside of the thigh and potentially up to the hip. Gluteal muscle strengthening is a great way to prevent IT band syndrome.
Single-leg RDL. Stand on one leg with your knee slightly bent. Keeping your pelvis level, hinge forward at your hips, squeeze your glute, and extend your free leg behind you. Repeat on both sides. Perform 5-10 repetitions on each leg.
A healthy runner is a happy runner. Through specific strength and stability exercises, you can not only avoid injury, but you can become a stronger, more efficient runner in the process.
~Tricia Serres, DPT