Avoid Running Injuries This Spring With These 5 Tips

by Genevieve Singer, Owner and Founder of The Athletes Physical Therapist

With the weather getting warmer, one can't help but want to take to the open roads, soak in some Vitamin D, and start logging miles. Warmer weather begs for more time spent outside in any capacity, but the one caveat to that is making sure you set yourself up to avoid running injuries into the rest of the warmer months.

These factors can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Extrinsic factors include the shoes we wear, the surfaces we run on and the way milage is increased. Intrinsic factors include your running mechanics, flexibility, experience, injury history and strength level. It’s a combination of these factors that can result in injury, especially when you’re just getting started or heading back out there after a running hiatus.

Many of us also confuse soreness or a lack of flexibility with injury, so it’s important to identify whether the aches and pains you experience are just muscle soreness or something more serious. Here are some simple tips and tricks you can implement right now to avoid running injuries as you kick up the mileage.

1. Be Aware of Excessive Milage

When the plan calls for a three-mile loop but you hit your stride, your playlist is fire and the weather just begs you to keep going, you do. And if this happens once or twice a week, it’s no big deal. However, too much too fast brings a high risk of injury. While this may seem like a no-brainer, there’s a simple rule you can put into practice when it comes to upping your weekly milage.

If you’re running less than 30 miles per week, increase your mileage no more than 20 percent per week. If you’re running more than 30 miles per week, increase your milage no more than 10 percent per week. Sticking to this simple rule can help you avoid a slew of overuse injuries. Also, think about taking at least two rest days per week when you are running more than 40 miles per week. With mileage in this range, your body needs the time to recover properly. And when I say rest days, I mean real rest, not a recovery bike ride or an easy swim — I mean nothing more than the exertion of a walk.

2. Slowly Break Your Sneakers In

Many runners begin the spring running season with a fresh pair of sneakers. While the idea of running in sneakers that don’t have a ton of miles is valid, it doesn’t do much for injury prevention. Your body will adapt to the sneakers you’re in, and different types of sneakers will predispose you to different types of injuries.

Additionally, running in a brand new pair of sneakers will create new forces that your foot will be required to adapt to. Going to a local running store and getting fit for sneakers that work for your particular mechanics is a great idea, just be sure you cycle them in with your old sneakers. This will give your body a chance to adapt. Lots of clients I see initially think they can overcome an injury with a $150 pair of sneakers. Usually, it’s never that simple and sometimes can even make things worse. Studies have found injured runners typically have LESS miles on their shoes when compared to their non-injured running counterparts.

3. Continue to Strength Train

If you want to stay injury free, it’s paramount that you incorporate functional strengthening into your routine at least two days per week.

Think: squats, deadlifts, pressing and pushing. Going in only one plane of motion as a runner is a perfect recipe for tissue breakdown. I get my injured runners working with the barbell or with dumbbells as quickly as I can. Also, bodyweight movements that incorporate plyometrics such as box jumps, skaters, ladder drills, single- and double-leg hopping are ideal for training foot intrinsics (aka: the small muscles of the feet). Foot muscles need to be strong in order to absorb ground reaction forces.

4. Consider Your Experience Level

I hate to state the obvious, but more experienced runners tend to get injured less. Once those experienced runners become competitive, the pendulum begins to swing in the opposite direction, and they go right back to the same incidence of injury as their novice counterparts.

Contrary to popular opinion, running surface does not have a huge impact on injury — current research suggests the body will adapt to the ground reaction forces placed upon it, which is good news! It makes absolutely no difference from an injury perspective if you are running on a technical trail, the road, or the treadmill.

5. Determine Soreness Versus Injury

If you haven’t run in a while, or you’re just beginning to ramp up your miles, it may be hard to decipher between pain and soreness. I like to use the red light/green light protocol with my clients. Pain is the body’s way of telling us something isn’t right, which is super important. If you have pain when you run that is increasing, that’s a hard stop.

Pain that is increasing is an indication of something going on that needs to be addressed. Additionally, pain that comes on and lingers for several days after running is also a red light. Strength, mobility, and running mechanics all come into play when solving a complicated issue like this. Seek out a healthcare professional who understands your lifestyle and activity level that can help you get back to running without pain (and without telling you to totally stop running).

If you have some soreness/discomfort post-run that diminishes quickly, this is a yellow light. Proceed with caution. If this issue gets worse it could become a red light situation. Of course, these parameters are totally subjective but are a good guide for navigating most situations. Not all pain is bad — it’s information on something that is going on in our bodies and without it, we would know nothing.

Don’t cease all activity at the slightest discomfort. Consider some of the other points addressed in this post of things you can change today to say healthy.

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