The high-impact nature of running can lead to common injuries such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, iliotibial band syndrome, patellofemoral stress syndrome and piriformis syndrome. These injuries result in running with pain, running less or being sidelined altogether. Some research estimates that as many as 79% of runners will suffer a moderate to severe injury each year.
While running injuries are common, they aren’t necessarily inevitable, and they aren’t always attributable to just one factor. According to Joseph Hamill, Ph. D., a biomechanist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, “A combination of things—for example, an anatomical issue plus a training error and the wrong shoes—can add up to injury.” Today, scientists are studying how to prevent injuries, and they have found that being properly equipped and following a smart training program are effective. Here are some injury prevention recommendations from the experts at Runner’s World:
- Proper gear – The most important equipment a runner has is shoes, which impact running form and repetitive forces. Studies have shown that the firmness of shoe cushioning can influence the stiffness of your legs (bend at the hip, knee and ankle), which affects how forces impact your muscles, bones, and joints.
While debate continues about the value of minimalist shoes, ultra-cushioned shoes and running barefoot, the most common recommendation is to find a shoe that is comfortable and effective for you. You can consult with a shoe specialist at a running store, or work with a podiatrist, to determine if you have high arches, flat feet, overpronate or oversupinate. They even can perform a gait analysis, and then make corresponding recommendations for optimal footwear.
Find a shoe that is designed for your either road or trail racing as well, based on which you do. You may need to get one pair for each activity. And get new shoes after every 400-500 miles to ensure you are benefitting from maximum support.
- Correct form – Many injuries are due to faulty biomechanics, which affect one area of the body and often lead to negative compensations in different areas. For example, excessive lateral hip shifting can lead to lower back pain and discomfort in the knees. When running, loads up to 5 times your body weight stress your hips, knees, ankles and feet during every stride. Running experts and physical therapists can videotape and analyze your form, and then provide techniques to improve.
Good form includes upright posture, with the head directly over the shoulders; shoulders down and loose; relaxed, front to back arm swing; leading with the hips and engaging the glutes; taking shorter strides and landing lightly. Avoid overstriding and keep cadence quick to best manage ground forces.
- Strength training – More research is showing the value of strength training for runners to correct muscular imbalances, improve form, foster consistent gait and run more efficiently – all of which contribute to injury prevention. Do bodyweight exercises; use dumbbells, barbells, elastic bands or machines, and be consistent, aiming for two-three times weekly.
Perform exercises that address the lower body such as squats, lunges, lateral lunges, clam shells and glute extensions; the upper body such as pushups, rows, overheard presses, biceps curls and triceps dips; and core, including planks, crunches and Russian twists.
- Stretching – While some point to inconclusive research about the value of stretching for injury prevention, any runner will attest to how it helps loosen tight muscles and release tension for less stiffness and soreness. Incorporate static stretches regularly for the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and hips, hip flexors, lower back and calves. Hold stretches for 15-60 seconds each. The time investment is worth it.