Running, it’s the simplest thing on earth? So why do so many runners end up with niggles, injuries and sometimes, outright pain? There is nothing more likely to ruin running development than not being able to run at all! So what can we do to avoid getting those injuries in the first place?
#1 - Avoid over striding.
Over striding is easy to spot. If your foot lands in front of your body when you run, you have an over stride. Perhaps get a running friend to watch you while you run. So why is this a problem? If you over stride, you are far more likely to land on your heel when you run and heel striking has been linked to many running injuries, such as shin splints and heel pain. The reason for this is that when you run approx. 1.5/2 times your body weight goes through your foot when you strike the ground. If you heel strike then all this force goes through your heel bone. The body can only dissipate this force through joints, and there are only a couple of joints in the ankle to dissipate this force before the forces run up the front of the leg, into the knee and even the hips.
#2 – Try a mid foot strike.
So if a heel strike isn’t the best option, what other options are there? Well the mid foot strike is a great alternative. This isn’t a toe (or forefoot strike) strike where you land on the ball of the foot, this will also cause problems. We ideally want the ball of the foot and the heel to land at the same time, this is a mid foot strike. The benefit of this kind of strike, is that the foot has a lot of bones in it, and they are designed to flex and move in response to force. The arch of the foot is designed to flatten to dissipate forces and the plantar ligament is designed to flatten to provide potential energy giving the body and upwards force. All this means that the forces rarely make it out of the foot, therefore they don’t travel up the leg and into the front of the leg, knees or hips. However, there is one caveat to this and we will discus it in point 3.
#3 – Foot strengthening.
For the mid foot strike to reduce your injuries, you need the muscles of the foot to be strong. You can tell if your foot isn’t strong as you won’t have much of an arch. If you stand on one foot and your foot collapses inwards, your foot muscles are weak and before you think about mid foot striking, or even swopping shoes to a more minimalistic shoe, you will need to strengthen them. A great way to do this is the towel scrunch exercise (see picture). Literally scrunch a towel up under your foot using only your toes. This will strengthen all the little muscles of your foot.
#4 Check those shoes
Look at the bottom of your running shoes, there is likely to be a degree of wear showing on the tread. Don’t’ worry about trying to read the tread, that can be quite specialist. All you need to do is observe whether the wear pattern on the left and right shoe is exactly the same, it should be! If the patterns are different or one is more worn than the other, then something bio mechanical is making you run either one sided or unevenly and that will eventually lead to an injury. Of course this will also show on your every day shoes so why not check those before you even commit to that first run? Another quick check to see whether you habitually heel strike when you run is to see how worn the heel is, and again compare each shoe to see if the wear is greater on one side than the other. Loading one leg more than the other can cause one sided pains, such as runners knee. If one shoe is worn down more than the other, it may be time to come and visit us for a Gait Analysis.
#5 - Running volume
Too much too soon is also an incredibly common issue and if combined with poor biomechanics is a recipe for disaster. Look at how carefully a couch to 5K programme progresses. Once a person completes a 5k it is often a spring board to achieve more, the bug has bitten you and you want to go further and faster, or possibly both.
As a rule of thumb an increase in distance, speed or effort of more than 10 percent per week is not recommended. A good idea, however, is to look at some of the programmes for whatever distances you are interested in, in some of the running magazines. A good programme for any distance will share some common traits:
The first thing you will think is that the efforts and distances suggested don’t look like they are enough! That’s a good sign, quality over quantity.
There will also be recovery days and days were you do exercises other than running. Have a look around and see what appeals to you, but one thing that will only result in injury is the mistake of simply running more and more and more, with no variation.
If you can honestly say that your mechanics, technique, shoes and training volume are correct and that is quite unusual, even in elite athletes, then there may be less than obvious forces at work!
For example: running with your phone on a pouch on your arm requires you to run with that arm sticking out slightly from your side so you don’t rub the strap against your body. That will result in a subtle lopsided run and over many miles will lead to problems. This can also be said for other ‘less than obvious’ things such as:
Carrying a water bottle in one hand. Back pack hydration units or belts with a central bottle pocket are better.
Carrying your house or car keys in a pocket. Again, belts and backpacks can offer a solution.
Running the same route every time. Camber on pavements and roads can make you load one leg more than the other.
Running the same way around a track. Again this is about camber and some clubs and tracks will have specific days when you run the track in the opposite direction.
If you are really stuck and that niggle won’t go away come and see us here at The Reinge Clinic, we can video you running and analyse your body from head to foot to work out where the problem is coming from.
The Reinge Clinic is a Physiotherapy, Sports Therapy, Sports Science clinic based in Kenilworth, Warwickshire and Portishead, Bristol. Take a look at our facebook page for our pain, injury and exercise advice posts and learn more about us on our website.