It’s an all-too-common scenario. You start running regularly, and before you know it you’re on the sofa, ice pack in hand. So, how can you prevent those running injuries to keep you pounding the pavements?
Like every other sport, it takes some time and thought both in and out of your trainers. Unfortunately, most of us only think about injury prevention after that little knee niggle has already started, so if you’re researching this right from the start, then you’re already one step ahead a lot of runners.
As we’re all so unique, it’s hard to say what your likelihood of getting injured is, as some are more prone to injury than others. However, a review of running injuries in the Sports Medicine Journal puts it between 37 and 56% each year.
One thing is clear though — around 50 to 75% of those injuries are put down to overuse and constant repetition of the same movement. The review concludes that injured runners should focus on “complete rehabilitation” and non-injured, “the early recognition of symptoms of overuse”.1
So, where do we start? Let’s take a look at what can be done to prevent running injury.
1. Build up Strength
A lot of people rely heavily on having the right trainers to prevent injury, however, there’s quite a lot of research recently that shows your shoes may not be all that. A review of studies on injuries in runners even discouraged the use of orthotics and inserts, instead saying that you should concentrate on specific strengthening exercises for weak spots.2
While the jury’s still out on this one, perhaps you should worry less about what you’ve got on your feet (unless it’s flip-flops) and more on how you’re strengthening your lower body. What this means is strength exercises to prevent injury in potential weak spots.
So, if you’re getting serious and want to put a stop to those niggles, then you may want to see a physio for helpful strengthening exercises to prevent further running injuries.
2. Run with Good Form
You may be thinking that there isn’t a “correct” way to run and running comes naturally. However, when it comes to form and technique, there are things you should avoid. For example, heel striking, which happens when you over-stride, can potentially cause injury.
Evidence shows that fore-foot strikers (when the ball of your foot makes contact with the ground first) tend to have significantly less injuries than rear-foot strikers (when the heel of your foot makes contact with the ground first). So, you might want to think hard about how your run and how that could strengthen or weaken specific parts of your lower body.3
While you can technically change your foot strike from rear-foot to fore-foot, there’s little information available on whether this change could itself cause injury until the different parts of the feet used become stronger.
A lack of motion is something that many people suffer from in the lower body. If you have a lack of motion in the lower leg and feet, and tight hip flexors you can be more prone to injury.
By stretching immediately after a run, you can help to increase your flexibility and stretch out your muscle when they are warm — the safest way. You should aim to stretch lots of different areas, specifically looking into calf raises and stretches, wall pushes/push ups, hip flexor stretches, hip openers (e.g. clam stretches, plie squats and leg raises), hamstring and quadriceps stretches.
It’s also important to remember all muscles are connected, which means issues in the back can often cause injuries in the lower body, so don’t forget to stretch your upper body: chest, shoulders and back, to minimise upper body tension.
4. Train and Recover the Right Way
So maybe at the moment you have to drag yourself out the door on a run, but for many a day isn’t complete without a jog. Running can be an addictive sport, making over training a common cause of injury. Running 8 to 10 miles every day and pushing through any pain may seem like you’re a running machine, but that will only lead to you not being able to run at all.
Don’t make that mistake — make sure you’re training sensibly and listen to your body. Get a suitable amount of rest, stretch, and foam roll to recover the right way. Make sure you get plenty of quality sleep - at least 7 hours. Often enough, what can be thought of as “over training” may actually be under recovering.
5. Hydration and Nutrition
There’s nothing more important hydration, food and nutrition for running and recovery. For those who want to lose weight, a low calorie diet followed by miles of running seems like a good solution, but in reality you’re damaging your metabolism and muscles.
Even when losing weight, you need to eat to keep your metabolism ticking over. After all, it’s better to take a steady approach to weight loss, than to damage your long term health and suffer from injuries due to a lifestyle that’s not sustainable.
Make sure you eat for running and for recovery — get plenty of complex, high fibre carbohydrates the night before or prior to running, to fill your muscles full of essential glycogen (energy). Then after, be sure to replenish your blood sugar levels with carbohydrates and protein for muscle maintenance and growth.
Take Home Message
There’s nothing like that post-run endorphin rush to spur you to tie up your trainers and hit the road. So, make sure you’re not missing out by giving your body exactly what it needs to get faster and stronger every time.
1 Van Mechelen, W. (1992). Running injuries. Sports medicine, 14(5), 320-335.
2 Van der Worp, M. P., Ten Haaf, D. S., van Cingel, R., de Wijer, A., Nijhuis-van der Sanden, M. W., & Staal, J. B. (2015). Injuries in runners; a systematic review on risk factors and sex differences. PLoS One, 10(2), e0114937.
3 Daoud, A. I., Geissler, G. J., Wang, F., Saretsky, J., Daoud, Y. A., & Lieberman, D. E. (2012). Foot strike and injury rates in endurance runners: a retrospective study. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 44(7), 1325-34.