A fundamental principle that I see abused everyday with people who are ramping back up after a running or work out hiatus is that they don’t pay close enough attention to their body. Awareness is the most important aspect of prevention. When it comes to our cars, we are all aware of the need to rotate our tires, inspect them regularly, keep them properly inflated and of course, we are all careful not to hit curbs or run over glass. Unfortunately, rarely do we take the same care or concern for our body. We simply demand that it respond when we need it to.
It is my assertion that knowledge is the key to prevention. Knowing what can cause an injury is the best way to create the right environment to keep it from happening in the first place.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
We often ignore cues and signs, pushing through to our goal, believing in mind over matter, until the pain overwhelms, and our body shuts down. If you have a pain that niggles with each run or happens during a run and starts to persist for hours after your run, it may already be turning into an injury. Pain is a subjective topic and whether it is genetics or social circumstance, we all respond to it in different ways. Pain is an indicator and a way for your body to tell you that something is wrong. While not always perfect, a good rule of thumb is that discomfort during an activity can be normal, but pain is not. Knowing the difference can mean the difference between a trip to our office. Pain is described in many ways, but the descriptors people need to take heed of are sharp, stabbing and throbbing. If this occurs during a run, it is best to have it assessed.
Follow the Rules – Here is a Pre-Season One
All the reading and researching advice on best practice for mileage building, speed training, nutrition and more is only effective if you follow that advice. Try not to get yourself into a situation where you say to yourself that you should have known better. A prime example is that you should not be adding a new activity such as hills or stairs without a plan. Simply donning your running shoes and starting a rigorous hill work out will not end well. Instead, introduce it slowly and purposely. Set a goal, write it down and then break it down into manageable steps. If you want to run 10 mid-size hills during a single work out, start with one on the first training day. Don’t increase to two until you have run one hill on consecutive work outs without incident. Then increase to three hills once you have run two hills on consecutive work outs (without incident) and so on. Writing it down will help you to create a plan and stick to it (follow the rules). It can keep you from pushing beyond your capacity and allow you the time to develop the strength, stamina and stability needed to prevent injury.
Watch the Conditions & Your Work Out Wear
The early season does not provide the best conditions for getting outside and running. If you have been hibernating for the winter, pay attention to the condition of the roads, paths, or trails you plan to run. Besides the obvious risks of ice and gravel, there is also the basic fact that unlike summer roads the surfaces are uneven. Give yourself the best chance to avoid injury on these conditions by “following the rules” I described. Start with shorter distances and pace and build up as your body adapts to the terrain you are training on. You might consider getting some early miles on a treadmill first with some short excursions outside. Dress properly and of course keep an eye on the age and shape of your shoes.
Many runners in the early to middle frame of their training season forget that the most important aspect of training is to cross it up. If you are a runner, get on a bike. If you don’t like the bike, then get on the rower or in the pool. Varying the activity can help to ward off overuse injury whilst keeping up both the aerobic and anaerobic demands of the sport you are training for. As a side benefit, you may even get stronger at the very sport you are taking a break from.
Strength Train – “Think” Strength
In our office we see many runners who simply run. They pay little attention to their body’s ability to tolerate the demands of running. A key technique error that we encounter is that many runners just focus on their pace, distance, and intensity. Unfortunately, not paying attention to balance, strength, posture and specifically engaging the core muscles while running can contribute to overuse injuries ranging from the feet to the back. The coordination of the muscles around the back and trunk is as important as the strength of them. Keep in mind that just being strong in the glutes and abdominals does not make for a strong “core.” It is very important that the core muscles are working together and are functional. Make sure to take those core and strength training gains and put them together mentally when you run. Here is the kicker, don’t just put on the headphones and go, when you are training “think” about engaging the lower abdominals while maintaining a good form. The thinking part is key. One of the most effective global exercises for core engagement is the plank. As I noted, the key is the coordination of the acting muscles with an emphasis on maintaining a good lower abdominal contraction during the exercise. Now take that same feeling and “think” about the engagement of those muscles when you run. This is how you can functionally improve your core.
Static Stretching is OUT – Dynamic Stretching is IN - Sort of
There is a time and place for everything. The current research holds that static stretching can reduce a runner’s performance when done immediately prior to running. This is not to say that there isn’t a role for static stretching. Static stretching is key to maintaining flexibility between or following a run. Prior to a run I advocate dynamic stretching. Here are 3 dynamic moves that you can utilize to warm up before a run:
When it comes to the off season, time between runs and immediately after a run there is a role for maintaining flexibility. This is where static stretching can be important. Without the proper length and elasticity of a muscle it will be more prone to injury. Here are two of my favorite stretches to keep the Iliotibial band and gluteals flexible. It just so happens that shortening in these tissues can lead to a myriad of problems for runners which is why I highlight them for your pre-season conditioning.
When It Goes Wrong
No matter how well you prepare, things can still go wrong. When it does, RICE works. If you do have a tweak, slip and fall, or worse, best practice remains Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Remember that the first part of the equation is the most important – REST.
A final thought: Know when to get help - If a pain has persisted for more than 2 weeks despite your best efforts at self-management, you need help. The sooner you get help, the less likely you are to have compensated or negatively affected the healing process and the quicker it can be resolved.
All the best to an injury free 2018
Leading Edge Physiotherapy