Running is the exercise of choice for many individuals, who see it as an expense-free way of maintaining their cardiovascular fitness and in many cases, body weight. Runners may enter races over distances from 5 kilometers up to marathons or may run simply for their own enjoyment and health benefits.
When running, up to 10 times your body weight is passed through the joints of the lower limb with each step. This obviously increases the risk of injury. There are a number of factors which may help an athlete to avoid sustaining a running injury.
The frequency, intensity, time and type of training that an athlete puts in can affect their chances of injury. As often seen with new runners, doing too much too soon is a big cause of injury. The general rule of thumb is that distance should not be increased by more than 10% from the last week. Following this rule should help to avoid certain overuse injuries by gradually increasing the mileage and so stress put through your legs! Other errors include not having enough rest days and continually running on very hard surfaces or up and down hills.
The importance of getting the right running shoe cannot be stressed enough. There is now such a large selection of running shoes available that the runner may become bewildered by the act of narrowing down shoes to suit them. There are basically three types of running shoe: cushioned; stability and motion control. Stability shoes are most suited to people who have a neutral foot posture and do not over supinate or pronate. Cushioned shoes are designed for those who oversupinate, or have a high arch and motion control shoes are most suited to runners who overpronate or have a flat arch or arch that rolls in when running.
There is controversy surrounding the use of stretching to prevent running injuries. Research has shown conflicting evidence over the effects stretching routines has on injury prevention. The general consensus at the moment is that until stretching is proven to have no beneficial effect, then it should be included in your running training.
Stretches should be incorporated for all of the lower limbs, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, calf, hip flexors, gluteals (buttock muscles) and peroneals (outer lower leg muscles). Stretching should be performed before and after each run, with each stretch being held for a minimum of 20 seconds and repeated two or three times. Stretching can also be performed in-between training sessions, in individuals who are concerned about their flexibility (or lack of it!). As long as the stretch is gentle and static (no bouncing etc) then stretches can be performed without warming up.
If running is the only form of exercise an individual takes part in, then the repetitive motion of running is limited in its ability to strengthen the muscles of the lower limb. A program should be developed to strengthen the lateral hip muscles, hip flexors, and extensors, quadriceps and calf muscles. Building the strength in these areas will help to improve your biomechanical efficiency (your running style), which in turn, reduces the rate of injury.
Common Running Injuries
Most running injuries are classed as overuse injuries which tend to build up over a period of time. This is due to the repetitive nature of the sport.
Patellofemoral pain is a bit of an umbrella term, used to describe pain in the front of the knee joint which comes on for no apparent reason. It can have many causes and usually, a case will have a combination of factors, rather than one main cause. In the case of runners, the most common causes are weak hip abductors, tight lateral structures of the knee, weak VMO (teardrop muscle above and to the inside of the knee cap) and overpronation. Treatment for patellofemoral pain usually incorporates an exercise program to stretch and strengthen affected muscles. Learn more about patellofemoral knee pain.
Iliotibial band syndrome
ITB syndrome, also known as runners knee, is irritation of the insertional portion of the band, where it crosses the outer knee joint and attaches to the Tibia (shin bone). Causes of ITB syndrome include weak hip abductors, a tight IT band, overpronation and lots of hill running. Treatment of ITB syndrome involves treating the causative factors as well as the symptoms of pain at the outside of the knee joint. Find out more about ITB syndrome.
Shin splints is a term often used to cover all pain at the front of the lower leg. This is not the case. True shin splints (now often known as medial tibial stress syndrome), is pain which occurs on the inner side of the shin bone. Symptoms may disappear with rest, only to reappear with activity, there may be a pain when raising the toes and the area may be tender to touch and feel 'bumpy'. Shin splints have many causes, including foot overpronation, oversupination, calf muscle tightness, inadequate footwear and overtraining. Learn more about shin splints.
Plantar fasciitis manifests itself as pain in the heel and sometimes the arch of the foot. The pain is caused by inflammation and degeneration of the plantar fascia, a thick connective tissue which runs from the heel to the forefoot and forms the arch of the foot. Repetitive overstretching of this fascia causes pain and inflammation. It is usually most painful first thing in the morning and eases as the day goes on, this is a sign of inflammation. Find out more about plantar fasciitis.
The Achilles tendon is the thick tendon which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Achilles tendonitis is an inflammatory overuse condition of this tendon which causes pain and stiffness in the tendon which often eases with rest and returns with activity. The tendon itself has a very poor blood supply, which means it is slow to heal. If the condition is left untreated, it can progress to become a chronic, long-term injury and increases the risk of Achilles rupture. Learn more about Achilles tendonitis.