As a runner, one of the biggest worries can be getting injured. Running injuries can happen to all of us, no matter how long we’ve been running or how far. Whether you’re just getting started with running, or you’re training for a long-distance race, this blog looks at some of the best things you can do to avoid running injuries.
Bob Grainger, ambassador for Enertor and sports physiotherapist, has put together his 6 top tips to help avoid running injuries. These are especially relevant if you’re new to running or just starting to build up your distance.
Build up slowly
One of the biggest risk factors for running injuries is doing too much too soon. Build up your running distance and frequency slowly. This allows your tissues time to build themselves up to tolerate the new loads, stresses and strains you’re putting through your system.
- Avoid being drawn into challenges like run every day for a month. If you aren’t used to it, it’s a really quick way to get injured and lose the enjoyment of running.
- Initially, give your body a good 36-48 hours between running or other impact training sessions to allow your body time to adapt to the new loads you’re putting on it.
- Consider using an equation like the acute:chronic workload ratio to guide how many miles you’re running each week. Your chronic fitness is the average running miles over the last four weeks. Your acute load is the miles you are doing this week. If that ratio is over 130%, you have a much higher chance of injury.
- If you’re new to running, keep a steady pace on your runs over the first 6-8 weeks. Let your body get used to things before taking on interval, sprint, hill or Fartlek training runs.
Get the right running trainers
Okay, so running is meant to be a cheap sport/activity! And generally it is compared to many others out there. It does get more expensive if you get injured and need to spend money on getting yourself fixed! So try and avoid getting injured in the first place, and make sure you’re running in some specific running trainers.
- There’s a lot of science that goes into running trainers these days and they are there to help out. It’s tough on the body when you start running, so don’t make it even harder by running in social flat trainers, trainers that are years old or trainers that are too small, etc.
- Change your running trainers every 500 miles or 6 months, whichever comes round sooner. You think your body takes on some load when you run; think about your trainers, which take the impact first with each and every step. They can’t avoid taking the hit as you run. Just looking at the sole is a poor indicator of wear, as it won’t tell you how worn out the upper supportive material is.
- You don’t need to buy the most expensive pair of trainers on the market. Sometimes those extra features haven’t been proven yet to be any more effective than good old EVA foam, which is the mainstay of most running trainers soles. Try on lots of pairs, and the pair that feels most comfortable is probably a good shout for you to get.
- Consider taking out the current insole from the trainer and replacing it with a research-supported Enertor shock-absorbing insole. These can reduce shock by 44% and reduce lower limb injuries by 66%! Your body might not be able to tell you in person how much it loves that, but it can certainly love bouncing along the roads without pain!
Time and time again, the research supports us telling people to get strong. People often ask me, ‘How strong I should get?’ My answer is, ‘As strong as you can get – the stronger the better!’ I reckon if more runners spent half the time they spend stretching doing strengthening work instead, I’d be much quieter as a physiotherapist!
- Being stronger appears to help with running performance. There can be a duel benefit here: run better and probably avoid a running injury too.
- The stronger you are, each time you land or propel yourself forwards you’re using less of your maximum capacity from the system. If you use less from your capacity each time, it gives you longer before things fatigue. Fatigue is often a big reason why the system fails and breaks, leading to pain and tightness.
- You don’t necessarily need to go to the gym to get strong. Yes, that weight stack in the gym is a very efficient way to work your muscles hard and drive physical changes in the muscles, joints, bones and nervous system, but completing exercises at home – as long as it’s hard work for you – should get an adaptive change.
- Try and make your strengthening work fun, that way you’re much more likely to do it. Maybe have a friend join you; put on some retro disco music to get you grooving while you do some weights; or even get the kids involved counting your reps.
Optimise your recovery
Running doesn’t get you fitter. It’s the rest periods between bouts of exercise where your body adapts and improves its function. Get your recovery strategy sorted and you might be surprised how much better you feel the day after running and see your performance improve.
- Protein: although commonly used by body builders, it’s really useful for runners too. As we exercise for longer periods of time, our bodies move into a ‘catabolic’ state where we start to break it down. By having a source of protein immediately after exercise, we turn our body chemistry to an ‘anabolic’ state – for build up and recovery. So although the Western diet typically has more protein than we need, having a protein source (like 250ml of skimmed milk) helps our body biology recover quicker.
- Rehydration: even in cold weather, as we exercise and get warm we sweat. I know it’s not all that pleasant, but it’s a useful tool our body uses to keep us from overheating. So after running/exercise, it’s really important to make sure we replenish the stores in the body. Little and often can be a great way to refill the body’s water supplies. Mark a bottle of water with timings on to aim for drinking during the day. If you can’t stand having plain water, maybe have a ratio of 1-part fruit juice (not from concentrate) to 5-parts water. It just takes the edge off the plain water taste.
- Food/carbohydrates: getting some quality carbs back into the system quickly after exercise is really important to get the body bouncing back. It’s not called ‘the golden hour’ because that’s when athletes get presented with their medals! That’s the time the body turbocharges its recovery efforts, so the sooner you get it in you the better. Quality food is always better than junk food, even though that bar of chocolate looks so tempting after a hard run! Okay, maybe have a square or two of it after your bowl of pasta and chicken!
- Warm down: it’s so tempting just to collapse when we get back home after a run, but we can help optimise our recovery by helping the body return to its non-exercise state more gently. Maybe plan to finish your run 4-5 minutes away from your house and then have a brisk walk back to help the body settle back to resting levels. Or set the bike up on a turbo trainer in the garage and spend 5 minutes having a little leg spin after your run.
- Stretching/foam roller/massage tools: although we said about getting strong earlier, it’s not a bad thing to loosen up tight and sore muscles after running or repeated bouts of exercise. Yes it can be painful – and that often puts us off using it – but the good old trusty foam roller is a fab way to loosen muscles and relieve pressure on the joints and other tissues. If you really can’t stand the foam roller, some classic static stretches can also be really useful. Just don’t work into pain – just till you feel a stretch. A more expensive option is the newer vibrating massage tools – for some they’re more comfortable than using the foam roller, but unfortunately more expensive as well.
- Sleep: sleep is so important for the human body. Far too many of us are sleep deprived. It might seem a passive process, but it’s a time where the body can recover, adapt and recharge the batteries all over the system. Loads of brain areas are involved in sleep and it’s really important for recovery, health and building fitness. Give yourself a real big helping hand with recovery and give yourself the opportunity of 8 hours’ sleep per night.
- Low stress: another excellent tool to help de-stress and promote better happier mental states and boost recovery efforts in the body is a period of time to unwind, in a location of low stress – where the phone doesn’t ring, the kids don’t annoy you and work can’t touch you. Find a protected location where each day you give yourself 10 minutes to do what YOU want to do. Whatever that is – reading, yoga, Sudoku puzzles, listening to music or mental wondering – it doesn’t matter what you do, just as long as it’s something that you want to do.
If you were taking up golf or tennis, you’d likely have some lessons to make sure your technique was good. Well, running is a skill – so have you made sure your technique is sound? Non-ideal running technique can put a lot more stress through the body, giving a greater chance of injuries. It also reduces your efficiency, making life harder to get across the finish line.
- Don’t think the running shop has given you a comprehensive running analysis. Often they’ve just been looking at how your feet land on the treadmill, and there’s a good chance they didn’t look at anything higher up the chain. A comprehensive analytical look at your technique from top to toe is vital. In 18 years of being a physiotherapist, I’m yet to come across that perfect running technique in the clinic – but some are much worse than others!
- After the analysis, there is likely to be some or a lot of work to be done. The good news is that good running technique is not difficult to do, but the trick is the time it takes to master better technique. It takes time and lots and lots of practise to nail it down. Don’t expect to perfect it after a week or two; it’s going to take time, but the results can be stunning. We have had many a runner vastly improve their running times and avoid the injuries that used to plague them. A specialist technique centre or professional formally trained in running technique is certainly worth a visit to.
- Brain training – as well as improving technique, improving brain processing and speed is more well-researched now. It’s showing very positive signs of helping performance, efficiency and helping the brain to age in a more healthy state. A brain more able to process information and act on that quicker may be able to avert disaster when you land unexpectedly on that stone while running or don’t see that pothole or curbstone. Cognitive challenges while performing physical activities is a great way of improving your brain speed and processing skills.
It’s much better to make an impact rather than taking one! Running does put load through the body. Numbers like ‘the pressure through the heel is 4x bodyweight per step’ and ‘the compressive force through the knee can be 12-14x bodyweight depending on your running speed’ have been banded about. That’s a lot of load to take, especially if you then add in poor running technique or muscles not able to take that load. It’s no surprise that we get injured sometimes when the distance or speed increases suddenly.
- Why not help take some of the load off your body with some Enertor shock-absorbing insoles? The unique material is reactive – the harder you hit it, the firmer and more shock it takes, leaving less to go through your body. For less than half the price of most running trainers out there, it’s a great way to reduce the load going through the body. As well as reducing impact, they are also really comfortable. People often comment how much more comfortable the trainer feels with them in rather than the standard insole that comes with the trainer. As mentioned above, they are research-proven to reduce shock by 44% and reduce lower limb injuries by 66%.
Here’s to many miles of healthy, happy and pain free running!
Bob Grainger MSc MCSP HCPC CSCS
Practice Principal PhysioFixx Physiotherapy Clinic
SAVE 30% ON ENERTOR INSOLES (AND ANY OTHER PRODUCTS IN ITS SHOP) USING CODE ‘RMR30’ AT CHECKOUT UNTIL END OF FEBRUARY 2020. Shop at: https://enertor.com/collections/all
Introducing Bob Grainger
Bob Grainger, Enertor Ambassador and one of the UK’s leading sports physiotherapists, having been the lead physiotherapist for Sky Pro Cycling Team and a physiotherapist for British Cycling, he now owns and runs the PhysioFixx Physiotherapy Clinic, and advises elite athletes.
This article has been written and supplied as part of a paid promotion with Enertor.