Running and Injury Prevention: The Basics
By Brad Perry
During my twelve years working in the physical therapy field, I have seen far too many injuries that could have been prevented. For those of you who enjoy running and who would like to run with a decreased risk of injury, here are some thoughts on how to avoid injury, especially injury due to overuse. I endorse proper flexibility maintenance and muscular balance in the endurance athlete or track speedster. This is a simplified version of a proper routine.
A proper warm-up and stretching routine is key to injury prevention and will give you a better workout. Some stretches have been proven to decrease power production for short distance races, so consult your coach if you are a sprinter, especially immediately before racing. I prefer static stretches of 30 seconds for each lower extremity muscle group, followed by a gentle warm-up for 5-10 minutes, and then dynamic stretching and running drills. The warm-up might be 15-20 minutes in length, which could actually be longer than the run itself; I believe in quality over quantity and avoiding excessive “junk miles.” I also encourage the use of foam rollers and other self-massage techniques for at least 1 minute to each muscle group before and after workouts. Massaging the muscle groups helps eliminate soft tissue and myofascial tightness.
Muscle imbalances can cause injury and can occur from insufficient flexibility and strength. Because running is mostly a forward-plane movement, these muscles are properly strengthened but lateral muscle groups can be ignored. Runner’s knee or IT band syndromes can result from lateral muscle weakness and/or tightness. Other conditions can be prevented by maintaining proper core strength. Therefore, a good strengthening routine addresses core muscle groups and lateral stabilizing muscles. Our program consists of bridging, forward and lateral plank exercises, etc., which help address these problems. Forward and lateral lunges are also important for strengthening the core in a vertical position to prepare the body for running. I also encourage my athletes to mix up their routine with other activities that involve some lateral movement, such as basketball, tennis, racquetball, etc. Cross training is especially good during the offseason.
A proper cool-down helps prevent injuries just as much as the warm-up does. Stretching tight muscle groups after a workout and using the foam roller on “hot spots” is good practice. Sometimes after a tough workout it is difficult to stay motivated enough to cool-down afterwards, but be sure to get your heart rate down and stretch your muscles appropriately to help reduce soreness. Even scheduled rest days are important to prevent overuse injuries. Wearing recovery or compression socks after a workout will help fatigued ankle and foot muscles from soreness and swelling.
Another important way to help reduce soreness and swelling is by elevating your lower extremities above your heart level. Lie down on your back (supine position) and prop your feet up on something higher than your thorax for 10-20 minutes. Finally, it might be helpful to apply ice to sore muscles or joints after a workout.
These are some simple solutions to prevent injury. However, there are additional factors, such as running mechanics and footwear. Injuries are easier to treat when they are examined by the proper health professional in the early or acute phases. Most conditions can be helped faster if diagnosed properly and treated quickly. If you have sharp pains that persist over more than two workouts, consult a healthcare provider. Conditions such simple strains can lead to tears, and tendonitis can develop into chronic tendonosis requiring surgery. Athletes tend to push through pain, which can lead to injury, so train smart!
Brad Perry is a physical therapist/partner at Partner’s in Therapy and a coach/partner at Eleet Fitness. Brad earned his Bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sports Science and his Master’s degree in Science in Physical Therapy at Texas State University. Brad is certified as a Strength Training Specialist and also in Sportsmetrics. Brad is a USA Triathlon-Certified Coach, a USA Track & Field- Certified Track Coach, and a USAC-Certified Cycling Coach. Brad has recently qualified and coached a qualifier for the 2012 Age Group World Championships.