Running Injury Prevention 101

How is a runner like a flower patch?

Amazingly, after the Blizzard of 2010, the first signs of Spring are literally at my front door! Once the piles of fallen and drifted snow finally melted away yesterday, my tulips and daffodils were poking six inches out of the ground.  I immediately had two thoughts – “You guys started out way too early and did way TOO MUCH, TOO SOON!”

Too Much Running, Too Soon = No More Running

My over zealous flowers, strangely enough, happen to be like many of us runners, walkers and other active lifestyle types. You are correctly wondering “HOW?!”  There are a handful of runners and walkers who train throughout the year (kudos!) and then there is a somewhat larger handful of runners/walkers who attempt to “get back into shape,” whether that shape was the shape we were in at the end of the previous season or a shape for the very first time (or in a very long time).

Running vs. Reality: Reality Bites

Pursuit of the “ideal beach body” for the summer, starting that training program for the umpteenth time, or getting back into shape is quickly overtaken by reality because we somehow end up injured or it “hurts” too much and so we resolve to attempt it again … only next year.  We realize later why it was again that “I never liked working out,” with the overwhelming thought being, “Why am I doing this again?!”  Well, the goal is that THIS year will be different and we have a few ideas!  Sit tight, but don’t get too comfy! At our running store, we see several of these “spikes” in fitness activities throughout the year, e.g.: 1) around January 1st when the “resolutionists” descend on their fitness facilities with the new running and fitness gear they got for Christmas or Chanukkah so they can get into shape; 2) in the early spring when local high school runners begin their training for outdoor track; 3) in the spring when the road runners get out in earnest and attempt to make up in one week for the two months of slacking off over the winter; 4) at the end of the summer when the local high school cross country runners come back under their coaches and attempt to do two months of training over the first coached weekend; and 5) during the height of marathon season, when many runners attempt to go the marathon distance woefully undertrained. Unfortunately, many of these runners become injured. Over the years, we have noticed several trends. The mistakes these runners are making are so basic as to be laughable, yet we all seem to forget them in the enthusiasm of “getting out there and running.”

1) Lack or low-level of Running Fitness

Lack of running fitness can occur in people of all ages and sizes.  Don’t mistake working hard at your job, being busy, being productive, or being on your feet with fitness levels.  To some extent it depends on how one defines fitness.  We have seen “heavy” people who are incredibly fit and strong and likewise “thin” people who do not have cardiovascular or endurance fitness.  Lack of or a low level of fitness usually stems from a sedentary lifestyle resulting in reduced flexibility, muscular imbalances and lack of muscular strength, potentially compromised cardiovascular health, and lack of core and joint stability.  This deconditioned state is very easily overtrained as the body is incapable of producing proper movement, which leads to injury.  As more people work in offices, work crazy hours common to the Washington DC area, use better technology and have little need to move to any great extent on a daily basis, that fitness level at which we should begin our workout programs has become significantly reduced.  In other words, in order to stay injury free, we simply have a longer ladder to climb, but one that will be more beneficial in the long run if we climb every rung rather than trying to skip a few and then falling off. Preconditioning workouts can bring you up to a minimum fitness level and help ensure that you are ready and capable of proceeding to more rigorous activities. For information on preconditioning principles for adolescents and children go to http://aapsm.org/pdf/Dollard-Preconditioning-Principles.pdf For adults go to  http://win.niddk.nih.gov/Publications/better_health.htm#getactive

2) Failing to ensure we’re in good enough shape to begin a running program

This  is the old admonishment to “get a doctor’s OK to begin a running program if you have a medical condition, are overweight, are over 40 years old, or haven’t exercised for awhile.”  At the same time, this shouldn’t be an excuse not to get started.  Obtaining the doctor’s note is not license to avoid running, it simply means performing appropriate running workouts based on your current level of running fitness.  If you want to get started on a running program, discuss it with your doctor first and at the very least, prepare for the conversation. The National Library of Health in association with the National Institutes of Health has a wealth of articles and resources as well. Visit them at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/exerciseandphysicalfitness.html

3) Failing to warm up and cool down before we start running

Many runners do the latter, but can’t or won’t bother with the former. This includes proper stretching.  So why the warm up and cool down?  Warming up increases heart rate, body temperature, and also involves mental preparation.  It can be general and have no relation to your actual activity or it can be specific and be very similar to your respective workout.  Having said this, there is an ongoing discussion as to whether warming up and stretching before a workout is really beneficial or not and, unfortunately, the studies are as yet inconclusive.  Regardless of the direct benefits, the warm up at the very least puts your mind and body in a position to perform the remainder of the run correctly and prevent injuries as a result of poor running.  The cool down does the exact opposite.  It allows the body to return to a state of rest and includes reduced muscle soreness as well as increased flexibility. For the majority of people coming from the sedentary lifestyle and even for those who are avid runners, an easy warm up and cool down to incorporate into a running training plan is the use of a foam roller using a technique called self-myofascial release or SMR.  SMR works to reduce and correct minor muscle imbalances to create more optimal levels of function.  Warning:  it may hurt depending on how many imbalances or knots need to be worked out!  We found a great website on this topic:  www.sport-fitness-advisor.com/self-myofascial-release.html. The Mayo Clinic website discusses the importance of warming up and cooling down and has a plethora of links to additional information.  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/SM00067

4) Running too much, too soon

If you took off two months, you won’t be getting back into running shape over a weekend.  Another manifestation of this is my admonishment, particularly to my male customers, that if “running two miles is good, running four miles is NOT necessarily better!”  This includes increasing the intensity of your running too quickly, running too hard too soon, or running too frequently too soon.  If you are at all concerned about this, consult a certified personal trainer or exercise physiologist.  They can help you create a running plan that will properly get you where you ultimately want to be.  For many people beginning a running or walking program for the first time or the first time in a while, this may entail only a moderate 15-20 minute walk or run up to at most 2 days a week.  If the goal is to move from walking to running or pursuing longer distances running, the program may entail walking and running combined until the desired goal is achieved.  Once again, a slow process, but one that will achieve the goal while remaining injury free and having fun while doing it!

5) Failure to use correct running technique or running form

Many fitness centers have exercise equipment that limits the range of motion when using the machine in order to force your movements into a better, more “correct” pattern.  Additionally, many fitness centers have knowledgeable, trained staff to assist and guide you in the use of the equipment.  USE THEM!  On the other hand, there is a LOT of equipment in many of these centers that can be used incorrectly, even abused, leading to injury.  Regardless of your fitness level, correct technique and body form equals reduced or zero injuries.  More often than not, the avid gym goers lifting more stacks than you can count or barbells larger than your leg are unknowingly hurting themselves.  You will be better off pushing and lifting nothing but the bar if you are doing it PROPERLY!! As for running, see our write-ups on Good Form™ and come to a clinic: www.metrorunwalkspringfield.com/goodformrunning.html

6) Failure to use the proper running, walking equipment

Many of us attempt to use our running shoes for a variety of activities for which they’re not suited, e.g., court sports, basketball, and soccer.  Think about it: running shoes are designed to go one direction – forward.  However, they can be successfully used for any activity in that vertical plane, e.g., Stairmaster, elliptical, squats, lunges, weight lifting, Nordic Trac, and step aerobics.  While the running shoe gives you tremendous stability and support for these activities, they offer very little lateral support and you run the risk of twisting an ankle or destroying the shoe when used in sports with aggressive lateral movements.  Rule of thumb:  get a specific shoe based on how avidly and regularly you participate in a given activity. Many of us still exercise in the cotton “sweats” we’ve used for years.  While cotton is (in my opinion) still the most comfortable fabric for “hanging out,” it’s one of the worst to wear for fitness activities.  Cotton absorbs and holds moisture, so when you sweat, it remains next to your skin helping to cause irritation and blisters.  This is especially true for your feet, groin, armpits, and other areas where fabrics bunch or rub during exercise.  The “new” wicking fabrics can’t absorb perspiration – they wick it and pass it on, either to fall off in drips, or to an outer layer.  If you perspire a lot, you’ll still be damp, but the fabrics won’t become sodden, clingy, and heavy like cotton.  It’s an amazing difference. Finally, don’t forget the sunscreen, sports sunglasses or goggles, bike (skateboard, scooter, roller blades, Razor) helmet, mouthpiece, and protective pads required by your sport.

7) Failure to properly fuel, hydrate, and rest

Do I *really* need to explain this? Now – go out and have FUN!

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