Runners Stay Injury Free. Participation in sports activities is a way of life for many of us today, and running injuries are all too common. Understanding the extraordinary stresses running places on the body is the key to treating injury – and better still, avoiding it.
Most sports involve running. The explosive activity of sprinting is central to many ball games, middle-distance running requires endurance, and even more staying power is needed over long distances. However, the effect of running on the vulnerable parts of the body is similar in all these activities.
The most common injuries encountered by all runners are as follows.
Achilles tendinopathy is the term for inflammation, micro- or macro-tears, irritation and swelling of the Achilles tendon, which connects the muscles of the calf to the heel. If you experience pain in this area, take a few days off from running until it subsides. Inflammation of this kind must be taken seriously, since the tendon may develop scar tissue and in serious cases even rupture.
Shin splints, also called periostitis, is a painful condition affecting the front of the lower leg. This injury results from a biomechanical flaw in the foot (which can be made worse if your shoe doesn’t offer enough support) and/or over-training (stepping up your training volume too early). Your best bet is to switch to a thicker shoe, and make sure you stretch your calf muscles before and after running.
Muscle strains, such as calf or hamstring, result from lack of flexibility and/or over-exerting specific muscles. Pulls are basically small muscle tears, and the best way to avoid them is to do more stretching before and after a run.
Runner’s knee (patellofemoral syndrome) is caused by mechanical loading and irritation of the synovial structures under the patella, which is most likely when the kneecap is incorrectly tracked while running. The symptoms include pain and inflammation of the knee when you run, and it can be caused by insufficient strength and/or flexibility of the quadriceps muscles and over-training. Talk to an osteopath, biokinetisist or physiotherapist about getting treatment, and find out what are the best stretches to heal runner’s knee.
Illiotibial band (ITB) friction syndrome, marked by sharp, burning knee or hip pain, is a very common injury among marathon runners. The ITB is a thick band of tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh, from the top of the hip to the outside of the knee. It stabilises the knee and hip during running, but if it thickens and rubs over the bone, the area can become inflamed or the band itself may become irritated, causing pain. ITB syndrome can be caused by running on a cambered surface that causes the downhill leg to bend slightly inward and stretches the band, inadequate warm-up or cool-down, running excessive distances, increasing mileage too quickly, or certain physical abnormalities.
Plantar fasciitis is another over-use injury, this time affecting the sole of the foot. The plantar fascia is a tough, fibrous band of tissue (fascia) connecting the heel bone to the base of the toes and helping to maintain the arch of the foot. Your foot strikes the ground on the heel, then rolls forward towards your toes and inward to the arch – your arch should dip only slightly during this motion, and if it lowers too much, you have what is known as excessive pronation. When the plantar fascia becomes over-stressed as a result of excessive running, tension builds up along it, leading to pain and inflammation. This is most commonly felt on the sole of the foot towards the heel. It is usually corrected with an orthotic and calf stretches before and after running, 5
PREVENTING RUNNING INJURIES
The causes of running injuries can be broken down into four categories:
inappropriate trainingpoor warm-upbiomechanical factorspoor flexibility.An injury can be caused by a combination of these, but if you pay attention to each of these factors in your training schedule, you will improve your chances of remaining injury free.
Start off slowly. It’s very important to start your running programme gradually so as not to over-stress your muscles, tendons and joints. Progressing in this way gives your muscles time to adapt to the increased demands you are placing on them. Keep in mind that the stimulus of exercise creates tiny micro-tears or strains in the muscles, which have to repair and then develop further to be ready for the next run. This all takes time! Starting gradually includes adequate rest between runs – at least 48 hours for a beginner. Running too frequently will hinder your progress and increase the likelihood of injury. When training, always go at your body’s own speed. Push yourself, but push sensibly. If you push too hard, you’ll become injured.
Warming up. It’s most important to prepare your body for running by doing a thorough warm-up. This involves aerobic exercise (walking, cycling or a slow jog) for 15 minutes (optimally – 5 minutes minimum) at a relaxed intensity. Walking around the house doing a few shoulder circles is not a warm-up!
Streching. The importance of stretching cannot be over-emphasised. This should only be done when you are warmed up. It is NOT a warm-up! The best time to do it is therefore after aerobic exercise (warm-up) when the muscles have been made more flexible by the blood pumping through them, and/or after your run when you are thoroughly warm. If the muscles you are using are not kept flexible they will slowly tighten up while you are exercising, making you more prone to muscle pulls and conditions such as patellofemoral syndrome.
When you stretch, take each muscle to a point of mild tension, never pain, as pain will cause the muscle to contract and shorten as a protective mechanism. Hold the stretch for 5 – 10 seconds or until you feel the muscle relax, and then develop the stretch deeper. Keep stretching that muscle for 30 – 90 seconds, depending on the degree of stiffness. Never balance when stretching; rather hold on to a prop for support. Trying to balance will only cause muscle tension and not allow the muscle you are stretching to relax completely. The calf muscles, thigh muscles, hip flexors and buttock muscles are all important muscles to stretch. Remember to get into and out of the stretch slowly, and not to bounce when performing it. After finishing a long run, try to walk slowly for at least 10 minutes to allow your exhausted muscles to recover before stopping to stretch. A proper cool-down prevents blood pooling in your legs, reduces muscle stiffness, and decreases your likelihood of future injury.
Biomechanics refers to how effectively your muscles, joints and tendons are working throughout your exercise. It’s very important to wear running shoes that are specific to your running style, so as to ensure that your foot stays in a neutral position (the most mechanically efficient position) as you run.
Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you do sustain an injury, and don’t take it personally. Everyone who trains will sustain an injury at some stage. After all, training is a balancing act between overloading your muscles, skeleton and cardiovascular system so that you become fitter and healthier, and ‘over-overloading’ your body to the extent that you become injured.
If you are serious about running, it’s advisable to seek advice from a professional who will be able to support and advise you to ensure that your body adjusts to your new regime. In addition, regular physical treatment can increase a runner’s performance by simple measures such as increasing range of motion.
TIPS TO REMEMBER
Here are some tips to prevent running injuries. Keep them in mind every time you train or compete.
Listen to your body. Never consider running if you feel extremely tired or have consistent pain or soreness. A few days of rest can save you weeks of treatment and months on the sidelines.It is very easy to over-train. Maintain a good running base and never try to increase your mileage by more than 10% a week.
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