Advice on preventing running injuries
As a runner trying to maximise your potential, the threat of injury is very real at any time. In simple terms the aim of training is to get as close to the point of over-training and subsequent overuse to improve physiology, without going to the point of injury. Most runners will, unfortunately, go to the point of injury at some stage.
the aim of training is to get close to over-training to improve physiology without going to the point of injury
As a golden rule if a runner feels a tightness, irritation, or 'niggle' during or after training which has not gone within 24 hours, then resting that day is the appropriate action. If you can still feel it two days later then a consultation with a therapist who has proven experience of dealing with running injuries should be sought.
These suggestions should help to avoid injury:
- estimate or measure your level of fitness
- identify your strengths and weaknesses
- identify clearly your realistic aims
- plan a training programme which incorporates all aspects of relevant training with progression over time
- modify your lifestyle where possible to minimise the potential negative effects of poor posture, diet, lack of sleep etc.
- take an adaptable approach to your training plan over time.
In addition these practical steps will also help minimize the risk of injury:
- train and race in appropriate footwear
- replace footwear regularly
- warm-up and cool-down
- always follow your stretching routine
- use both performance enhancement and preventative massage.
- If your performance is very important to you consider some form of biomechanical analysis. This should assess such areas as your running action, posture, muscle imbalance and weakness. Your therapist may then identify stress areas and implement prescribed re-educative exercises and/or therapy, if relevant.
Stretching - some swear by it, others can't be bothered
The benefits of warming up include:
- the reduction in the risk of injury
- preparing the body for physical exertion
- preparing the heart for the physical activity
- rehearsal of the movements and skills needed
- mental preparation for the event.
A warm-up normally consists of 4 stages:
- Gentle loosening exercises
- Static stretching
- Event specific exercise, e.g. sprinting or jumping over hurdles
Commencing a training session or race without a warm-up can put unwanted strain on the heart as well as the muscles increasing the potential incidence of injury. For runners the jogging component of the warm-up should last from 10-20 minutes depending on the person, the event and the climate.
Some runners swear by it, some can tell tales of how they got injured doing it and some just cannot be bothered. However, as well as making sure you are easing out any existing tensions which could increase the risk of injury, stretching also has a bio-physiological effect on the tissue, improving its efficiency which can be of benefit to performance.
Ideally following the jogging part of a warm-up, static stretching should be performed of all major muscle groups of the body. If this is not possible stretch the muscles most used in running or at the very least those that feel in need of it the most. As a guide perform 3 stretches per muscle group, holding for at least 15-20 seconds with a feeling of obvious but comfortable tension. If the feeling increases whilst holding the stretch then ease off. Occasionally some people like to hold the stretch for longer, sometimes up to 60 seconds.
Do not confuse this type of stretching as part of a warm-up with other forms of stretching in different circumstances i.e. as part of therapy which may have a completely different aim.
If your training or competition is going to involve ballistic activities such as jumping or fast acceleration and deceleration then you may need to do some form of more ballistic type stretching to "bridge the gap" as appropriate. This should be done under the guidance of a qualified, experienced coach.
Self massage and icing
As a general rule you can often help yourself with injury avoidance with the use of self massage to any residual or new area of tightness. This can be done either before training or at other times.
Icing an area of soreness immediately after training or competition can also be of value. Always protect the skin with oil or a damp cloth and apply ice or cool packs for between 15 and 30 minutes. If an area of soreness persists for more than a few days you should always seek the advice of a therapist with proven expertise and knowledge of treating running injuries.