Running is one of the most popular fitness activities in the U.S. Millions of people run for fun, exercise and run races competitively. Whatever reasons people have for running, and no matter what distance they run, they often end up by hurting themselves. Injuries in neophyte runners can turn them off to the sport. With experienced runners, injuries can make running painful or impossible to participate in. Often a running injury results from the way we run or our running mechanics; making a few small changes can decrease pain and increase performance. The good news is that running injuries are preventable. If they do occur, they are treatable.
WHY DO INJURIES HAPPEN? Any runner can experience an injury due to faulty running mechanics. If you ever watched a race on TV or read an article about running, you’ll see and hear things like heel strike, stride length, and cadence – all of which are part of your running mechanics. If a runner’s mechanics are not ideal, it can cause increased stress on joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments, leading to injury.
But how do you know what the right running mechanics are? Are they the same for all runners? The answer is no. Running mechanics are specific to the runner. Below are four basic items to take into consideration when analyzing your running mechanics.
Four simple steps to good form:
POSTURE. Are you slouching and causing stress on your back? Are your arms and shoulders relaxed?
MID-FOOT STRIKE. Are you overstretching and running with excessive heel-strike, impacting the ground too hard? This causes increased stress on your knees and hips.
CADENCE. 180 steps per minute is the optimal cadence. Do you know yours? Too slow of as cadence can increase stress on your joints and cause pain. Too fast can create over exertion and increased pain to muscles and tendons.
LEAN. Are you leaning too far back or standing too straight up? Both can cause increased stress on your back and create an inefficient run.
Common Running Injuries:
SPRAINS. Rolling the ankle is the most common injury, but sprains of the ligaments in the knee are also seen frequently.
REPETITIVE/OVERUSE INJURIES: Plantar Fascitis, Shin Splints and Stress Fractures.
TENDINITIS: Achilles, Posterior Tibialis, and Patellar Tendinitis are the three most common form of tendinitis seen in runners.
MUSCLE STRAINS: Hamstring, Quadriceps, Gastroc/Soleus (Calf) and lliopsoas IHip flexor) strains are often seen when we have over dominance of certain muscle groups and under recruitment in other, creating muscle imbalances.
Best Treatment For Running Injuries:
They vary widely depending on the type and location of the injury, but many cross over and treatments are good for a majority of them. These are some of the most utilized treatments: RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. This is the tried and true method for acute treatment of most injuries and is step #1 for any injured runner or athlete. This helps to control symptoms and reduces swelling.
MOBILIZE THE AREA: Too many people are afraid to move through pain/inflammation and, instead, immobilize an injured area. Remember, acute inflammation swelling and irritation can often be made worse by not moving a joint or allowing a tendon or ligament to bind down and tighten further after being over-worked. (If you feel you have an actual fracture, that should be assessed through proper imaging and may require immobilization to allow for proper healing.)
STRETCH: With issues like tendinitis and muscle strains, we need to lengthen the tissues to allow for proper healing. The area may feel stiff and a little sore, but don’t let the tissue shorten down making it even harder to move the next day.
CROSS TRAINING: Stop injuries before they start. Runners all move in a straight plane. Very rarely do runners train in lateral and rotational movements. Reality is, a wide range of movements and strengthening will help to stabilize your joints, ligaments and tendons while running, and not only reduce the strain placed on them, but will also increase stability and performance.
Bottom line: Don’t let running injuries keep you off the road. Get your movements assessed by a trained physical therapist who can help you keep moving at your peak. Physical therapists can determine what the correct running mechanics are specifically for you. Wouldn’t running be more pleasurable it your faulty mechanics were detected and corrected? Contact a physical therapy practice for an orthopedic assessment BEFORE you get injured!
Erin Magherty PTA is a graduate of Naugatuck Community College’s Physical Therapist Assistant Program. She has spent many years volunteering at Gaylord Hospital, and has worked in an outpatient orthopedic setting for 2 years. She has also earned a Bachelor’s Degree in History/Education from Central Connecticut State University. Erin has special interest in the treatment of orthopedic and athletic injuries, as well as an interest in integrative health and healing. She can be contacted at 203-389-4593 or visit amitypt.com.