Unlike New Years resolutions which dissolve over time, following a few simple rules will greatly increase your chances of running injury-free in 2017. Understanding why runners get injured, setting realistic running goals, listening to your body, and doing the work it takes to be a runner will result in a successful year.
Why Runners Get Injured
Sixty million people ran for exercise in 20151 Running is a simple, effective means of achieving fitness which is accessible for very little financial investment. Running injuries, however, can be frustrating and expensive to treat. Nearly 80% of runners sustain at least one overuse running injury per year.2 Other than the occasional trip, slip, or fall, the repetitive dynamic forces generated and sustained during running often result in lower extremity injury. Among the twenty common running injuries, 70% to 80% of these injuries occurring from the knee to the foot.3 The most common running injuries include patellar tendinitis, meniscus tears, iliotibial band syndrome, patella femoral pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, hamstring strain, stress fractures, and ankle sprain. The underlying cause of running injuries, however, is functional weakness of the hips and core which causes excessive motion in one or more planes of motion.
Three different planes of motion act on the hips and pelvis while running: Forward/backward motion (sagittal), side-to-side motion (frontal), and rotational motion (transverse). Stabilization of motion in these three planes through targeted strengthening exercises will allow you to run more efficiently while greatly reducing your risk of running-related overuse injuries. A bi-weekly strengthening program must include activation exercises (finding and feeling the muscle working), strengthening exercises (fatiguing the muscle), and dynamic functional exercises (working the muscle in positions which simulate the demands of running). In addition to the gluts, core, abdominals, and lower leg musculature, the upper body and trunk must be strong and mobile.
Weekly mileage increases must be incremental. The age-old 10% mileage increase per week rule is a safe and effective guideline. A gradual increase in your weekly mileage will allow for adequate recovery between runs, allow for muscle strength gains to be realized, and reduce connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, fascia) overload. Remember, rest days are as important as high mileage days. Allow your body to rest, sleep, recover, and be ready to go following your rest day(s).
Setting Realistic Running Goals
Motivation and mental fortitude is crucial to achieving training and racing goals. Physical training and a realistic understanding of your physical capacity will allow you to achieve success without injury. Seek the advice of training partners, experienced runners, and coaches to help set realistic racing goals. Once your 2017 running goals are established, create a training plan which includes terrain, elevation, distance, and temperature components similar to those expected in your upcoming races. Test your body and mind under these circumstances to confirm your fitness for your target race(s).
Listen to Your Body
Because each of the 60 million runners who ran in 2015 are unique individuals, flexibility must be built into our training routines. Listen to your body when you are tired (How’s my stress level? When was my last total rest day?). Listen to your body when you feel good (What did you eat yesterday? How many hours did you sleep last night?). Listen to your aches and pains (Where do I hurt? Does slowing down my pace help?) Does increasing my cadence help? When did I last strength train? Do I need to see a professional so I don’t get sidelined?). Running through exertional pain is very different than running through injury pain. Listen to your body and get advice to learn the difference.
Doing the Work
Running alone will not prevent running injuries. Less than ideal running biomechanics combined with repetitive motion associated with high mileage can stress muscle, connective tissue, and joints to the point of failure. Build up running durability through cross training, strength training, and adequate recovery. Have your running mechanics evaluated with a 2D video running analysis to document and visualize your biomechanics. Target your strength training to your individual needs rather than following a cookie-cutter program found online. Failure to do the work will greatly increase your risk of a running overuse injury.
Sapphire Physical Therapy is here to help you reach your 2017 running goals. Call us or email your questions and Happy New Year!
John Fiore, PT
Sapphire Physical Therapy