If you’re a regular runner, chances are you’ve experienced some type of injury in your tenure as an athlete. Research shows that nearly half of all recreational runners get injuries, with many of those occurring in the Achilles tendon or calf. Other research pinpoints the knee, ankle, lower leg, and foot/toes as common spots runners experience aches, pains, and injuries
Is it the way we run? The shoes we wear? Because we sit all day? Or do we keep repeating training mistakes, like big jumps in mileage, running the same route at the same time in the same not-so-good shoes, or skipping out on strength work? The truth: It could be a one or all of these things.
The good news: There are proven strategies for how to prevent running injuries before they sideline you. It’s just that injury and injury prevention is multifaceted, so figuring out what will work for you may take time and some dedication. “A combination of things—for example, an anatomical issue plus a training error and the wrong shoes—can add up to injury,” says Joseph Hamill, Ph.D., a biomechanist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Every runner is a puzzle, with a different anatomy and injury history, says Anthony Luke, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Human Performance Center at the University of California, San Francisco. “Which is why injury prevention is so challenging,” he says.
But now, running science often focuses not on the treatment but the prevention of injury. Scientists are studying uninjured runners to decipher who gets hurt—and who doesn’t—and why.
Most experts agree that to lower injury risk, you need not a magic bullet but a loaded gun. One with a three-bullet chamber: a strong body, good form, and the right shoe. So here, we take a closer look at each, offering exercises, form tweaks, and shoe advice that all runners can use to lessen their chance of injury and enjoy a long, happy, ice-pack-free running experience. Read on and keep on running.
5 Steps to Preventing Running Injuries
- Add strength training to your weekly schedule
In the battle against injury, a runner’s best armor is a strong body. Strong muscles, ligaments, and tendons guard against impact, improve form, and lead to a consistent gait. “If muscles are weak, one footfall will not be like the rest,” says Reed Ferber, Ph.D., director of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary. “How your knee turns in, how your hip drops, how your foot pronates changes with each step. But with strength, these movements are the same each time, so your mind and body know what to expect.”
When a strong body runs, the brain tells the muscles to brace for impact before the foot hits the ground. The glutes and core contract to steady the pelvis and leg. The foot and ankle muscles are activated, providing a solid foundation to land upon.
- Start incorporating plyometrics into your workout
Jumping exercises increase elasticity—the springs that give running a light, bouncy feel. But they can also teach you how to minimize your impact on landing. If you’re not currently strength training, master bodyweight moves without jumps first. Then, add these plyometric exercises after performing the other moves (listed above) in this program for eight weeks.
- Incorporate mobility work into your warmup and cooldown—and throughout the day
The natural stress-recovery cycle of training can cause muscle fibers to knot up and stick together, limiting their function and leaving you more susceptible to injury. Breaking down these adhesions increases what’s known as tissue mobility, which allows muscles to properly contract and lengthen. These exercises increase mobility in notorious problem areas for runners. Practice them after a run.
- Work to improve your running form
If you want to stir up debate in your running group, bring up form. Proponents of minimalist-style running and other methods believe that just as there is a correct way to swim or swing a tennis racket, there is a right technique for running. Other experts say the way we run is individual, and messing with it invites injury.
But there is some common ground: Both camps agree that certain components of form, such as good posture and proper stride, can help prevent injuries.
Here’s a look at the gait cycle and where things can go wrong:
Just before the foot strikes, the brain sends a signal to the muscles to prepare for impact. The muscles contract so they can stabilize the joints. If this line of communication is weak or slow, the muscles won’t get this heads-up.
Some studies connect the impact forces of this touchdown phase to stress fractures and other injuries. And while midfoot- and forefoot-strikes minimize forces, experts agree that the greater hazard is overstriding—when the foot lands well ahead of the knee.
The foot is moving through pronation, and forces are at their peak, which makes this phase the most potentially injurious. Loads as high as 2.5 times your body weight pushing down on unstable hip, knee, ankle, and foot joints can wear down muscle, tissue, and bone.
The hip goes into maximal extension—if hip flexors are tight, you’re more apt to excessively arching your back.
- Find the right shoes for you
We asked experts to share their take on finding the right shoes for you and why that’s so important.
Can a shoe help prevent injury?
Yes, shoes can reduce injury risk because they can alter your form and how the repetitive forces of running are applied to your body. For example, research shows that the firmness of shoe cushioning can influence the stiffness of your legs (i.e., amount of bend at the ankle, knee, and hip), which affects how forces impact your muscles, bones, and joints.
If you’re in a shoe that applies forces in a way that your body can manage and is a good match for your training (road or trail, for instance), the shoe can help reduce injury risk.
Try rotating among a few pairs: A trainer for long runs, grippy shoes for trails, flats for speedwork, and minimal shoes for form drills. The variety mixes up how force is applied and may reduce stress in the legs and feet.
How do I know if I’m in the right shoe?
You want a shoe that fits your biomechanics. Specialty-running-store assessments are helpful but not foolproof. My best advice is to go by comfort. If it doesn’t feel good, it means it’s putting stress somewhere you don’t want it to.
If you have aches and pains after you’ve run in a pair of shoes, it might be a sign you’re in the wrong ones. If your shoe does feel good, it’s likely a good one for you.
How can a shoe specialist help me find the right pair?
Our job is to find the shoe that best complements your foot shape and biomechanics. If we do that, we can minimize a shoe’s role in the injury equation.
Should I switch to a minimal model for injury prevention?
There is no compelling evidence that says a minimal shoe will reduce injury. Some runners have switched and have had positive, transformative experiences. Others have been hurt and disappointed. Runners with smaller, leaner bodies, midfoot- and forefoot-strikers, and those with little or no injury history are most likely to make the switch without problems. Extreme heel-strikers and anyone with chronic injury issues will take longer to adapt and may find that their more substantial, conventional shoes work better for them.
I bought minimal shoes. Now what?
Transition gradually. Spend the first week just walking in them. The following week you can start running in your new shoes—but wear them at most every other day for the first two to three weeks, and only do a mile or two in them. Whatever amount of running you start in your new shoes, hold at that level for at least a week. Then increase only by whatever your original amount was. Gradually introduce them to harder workouts.
Do orthotics work?
There has been surprisingly little research linking orthotics—a shoe insert that alters or controls motion—to injury prevention. But for people with excessive pronation or flat arches, inserts can help. Studies show that an over-the-counter orthotic can be just as effective as a custom-made one, so try those first. If you still have pain, see a physical therapist who specializes in running.
Original Post runnersworld.com