May 23, 2018
How to avoid running injuries: experts share their top tips
Three of Britain’s top running experts reveal how to stay injury-free this summer
As the weather heats up after a long winter it can be tempting to launch into an ambitious running programme to make up for lost time. However, suddenly stepping up your routine can wreak havoc on muscles and joints.
“Injured runners are limping into our clinics at the moment,” said orthopaedic surgeon Mr Simon Moyes. “The sun is out and people are wanting to get fit and lose their winter tummies. As a result we are seeing a sharp spike in stress fractures and over-use injuries.
“Ankles, feet, shins, knees and metatarsals can be damaged with a tumble or collision or just by using them more than they can handle. It’s really important not to overdo it especially at the start of the season.”
So what is the best way to build up a summer running routine whilst minimising the risk of injury? We asked three of Britain’s leading running experts for their tips:–
Dr Catherine Spencer-Smith, consultant physician in sports & exercise medicine
- Build up gradually. People sometimes throw themselves into ambitious training routines. For instance, running five times a week when they have never run before. This can result in over-use injuries.
- Listen to your body. If you have a dodgy hip, dickie knee or wobbly ankle, you need to get that sorted before you start running. Also, make sure you are getting enough sleep. You may have to let some aspects of your social life go if you are going to get into running successfully.
- Get a running coach who can help you progress gradually. If that’s not possible, see a good running physio or osteopath. They can assess how you move and see where you’ve got weaknesses that could lead to problems.
- Go to a reputable running shop and get some good shoes or ideally see a sports podiatrist who can assess your gait.
- Ensure you are consuming enough calories. If you eat just enough calories for a sedentary person and then do 10-mile runs, you may end up messing with your metabolism which could lead to fractures because it puts your body into famine mode and bone housekeeping goes awry. Eat some carbs and protein within 20 minutes of completing a run – something like a chicken sandwich.
- Do some strength and conditioning work. Lifting weights helps you build up strength generally which helps protect you from injury and also helps you go faster because you are less fatigued.
Scott Newton, chartered physiotherapist specialising in running injuries
- Don’t fall into the ‘too much, too soon’ trap, stick to the principle of not increasing your weekly running volume by more than 10 per cent. One of the main reasons I see patients in clinic is that they have gone from not running at all to running 4 or 5 times a week and combining that with a general fitness or high intensity class. The result of this is that muscles, tendons and even bones can end up injured because they have not had adequate time to adapt to the rapid increase in running-related load they’re being put through.
- Incorporate regular strength training into your weekly routine. Strength training improves the resilience of muscles, tendons and even bone to help keep you injury-free. It’s interesting to note that there is far more evidence to suggest that strength training has a bigger impact on injury-avoidance than stretching.
- Listen to your body. If you’ve had a persistent niggle for the past couple of runs don’t ignore it, go and get it checked out by a reputable healthcare professional who has a specialist interest in treating runners.
- Get kitted out with the right footwear. Go to an independent running shop where they’ll spend time fitting you and letting you run in different shoes, so that you can decide what feels most comfortable for you. The concept of fitting certain shoes to a certain foot type has been discredited when it comes to injury prevention, so for a lot of people selecting shoes based on comfort is a good way of minimising the risk of injury.
- Focus on dynamic stretches when you are warming up, this is particularly important before a higher intensity workout such as a track or hill interval session. Rather than doing a static hip flexor stretch, for instance, do walking lunges to warm up the muscles and signal to your brain that you’re about to start running. If you feel particularly tight in an area, static stretches can be useful to improve this, but don’t do this directly before a run.
- Consider getting a coach. An experienced running coach can be invaluable when it comes to keeping injury-free and hitting your running targets. If you are running to a specific goal, such as a marathon time, you are more likely to achieve it if you follow a structured plan that is tailored to your strengths and weaknesses and includes the right types of runs each the week. Importantly a coach can keep an eye on your training volume or ‘load’ and make sure that you’re not overdoing it.
Wayne Buxton, running coach and former international marathon runner with a PB of 2:16:38
- Many people when they start running look up the training schedule of someone like Mo Farrah and think they should be attempting that. It’s really important not to over-stretch your body. Never increase your volume of training by more than 10 per cent a week. So if you are running 30 miles per week don’t jump to 40 miles per week just because the sun has come out. If you drastically increase your volume, it puts a sudden strain on your body and you are more likely to get injured.
- Listen to your body and know the difference between what is aching due to hard work and what is painful due to injury.
- Have two or three pairs of training shoes on the go. Alternate between a fairly new pair and a couple of older pairs. That way you’re not letting your shoes wear down to the extent they could cause an injury.
- Keep your legs warm even in sunny weather. Many people run in shorts and a vest even when the weather isn’t that warm. As a former athlete I never used to get into shorts until the temperature was in the mid 70s. You don’t want your muscles to get stiff and cold because this increases the risk both of injury and of tight muscles the next day.
- Do a dynamic warm-up. Running and doing some strides is more important than static stretching.
- Make sure you are well hydrated before and after training sessions. It’s important to know how much fluid you have used. You can weigh yourself before and after a long run. If you have lost a kilo that is a litre of water. To rehydrate properly you need to drink a litre and a half to replace every litre you’ve lost. It’s also important to refuel. I recommend eating something within 20 minutes of completing a run. For instance, a banana sandwich on wholemeal bread or a protein shake. Proper hydration and refuelling helps muscles repair.
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