Running has a large participation rate in Australia with an estimated 1.2 million Australians aged over the age of 15 participating in running each and every year. Running has so many health benefits, both physically and mentally, however due to the demands on the body, it is also an activity that results in pain and injury, with 80% of runners reporting some form of injury for every 12 months of running. As both health professionals and runners ourselves, we are in a unique position to help guide you to stay injury free! As runners, we experience the highs and lows of running – the personal best times and the frustrating weeks of cutting a run short or missing runs completely. As physiotherapists, we also see others go through this and help them manage their pain and return safely to their best again.
We want to reduce the number of injuries and the amount of time spent out of running altogether, so we have developed this guide that outlines our top 5 tips for runners to stay injury free.
1. Get the best footwear for you
There is no “best” running shoe for everyone, however there are considerations to take into account when picking out the best footwear for you. A common tip for picking out the perfect running shoe is to think about how comfortable it feels. However there are different factors that go into this, like the amount of support the shoe provides and also ensuring you have the right fit for your foot. A running shoe that does not provide the appropriate support you need or is not fitted correctly (eg. too narrow or too short), will only create problems when running and can even lead to injuries.
In terms of support, running shoes are typically classed as either a neutral or stability shoe. This refers to how much movement of the foot the shoe allows or restricts. In a neutral shoe, the foot has more freedom to move and flex whereas a stability shoe has a build up of support on the inside of the shoe which will restrict the level of pronation your foot goes through. Although pronation itself is a natural and normal function of the foot, some runners find that restricting excessive motion helps to reduce pain and tightness during running. Over time, if excessive pronation is a problem for a runner, it can lead to an overload of the ankle, foot, and knee structures. Runners can then develop problems such as shin splints, Achilles tendon pain and knee pain such as ITB irritation or Patellofemoral pain (PFJS) because of it.
If you are unsure whether a neutral or stability shoe is right for you, a running assessment by a trained physiotherapist can examine and record the way you move and to help interpret how your body moves. This information along with a detailed history of any aches, pains and injuries can help build an overall picture which may suggest which shoe type is most appropriate for you.
2. Build A Strong Core
A lot of runners shy away from strength training for a number of reasons, and even if they do include some within their training regime, it is often specific to their legs only. An opportunity that is commonly forgotten is to train a strong core to help with running efficiency and performance. A strong core can provide the foundation to assist with running posture, prolong the onset of fatigue and help with arm swing due to the stabilisation of your torso.
During running, a strong core will also help your hips and lower limbs to work more efficiently by controlling any excessive movements and conserving energy in the process. No matter the distance, whether you’re a sprinter or marathon runner, a strong core will help you to run faster and reduce fatigue. The result of this is also a reduction in overloading certain areas, decreasing the potential for niggles and tightness to develop or progress to injuries which require you to stop running altogether.
Lastly, a strong core is great to help with runners who are experiencing lower back pain. There are many factors that may contribute to lower back pain but if it begins due to a higher intensity of running or towards the end of a longer run, building up the capacity for your core and lower back muscles to handle your running load definitely helps! Lower back pain in running can also occur as posture deteriorates due to fatigue. It is not the posture itself that causes pain but the reliance on different muscle groups to work harder as your position changes during a run.
3. Rest & Recovery From Running
Running is so good for your overall health and wellbeing however there needs to be time for planned rest and recovery! The load and impact of running can take its toll on your muscles and joints and the stress we put it through should be countered by strategies to help it recover as well.
The most common types of recovery are taking set days off throughout the program, including deload weeks where you may train at lower intensities for an entire week or incorporating cross-training, where running is substituted for something with less impact on the body such as cycling or swimming.
In terms of varying your running training in order to decrease the overall load, there are many strategies. You can decrease the amount of running in terms of distance (running 5km instead of 10km), the amount of days you run (2 this week instead of 5) or the intensity you run at (6:00min/km instead of 4min/km).
4. Staying Mobile & Flexible
It is common for runners to stretch before and after a run however true mobility and flexibility is a little more advanced than that. To simplify things, mobility is the ability to move your joints throughout their entire range of movement on its own (for example, how high can you raise your leg or bend your knee). Flexibility on the other hand could be defined more so by the available range a joint has whilst being moved by an external factor such as your own hand or someone else (for example, assisted stretching).
Functionally, the benefit of working on your mobility is that it takes into consideration the coordination and control elements of movement, not just the range of motion. Good mobility allows for your muscles to work at their best during your run, both powerfully for a better performance and efficiently to reduce fatigue. Opposing the benefits, the downside of not having adequate mobility is that it may increase your likelihood for pain and injury.
Key areas of mobility which can benefit runners are hip and ankle mobility. Having appropriate hip mobility in a number of directions allows us to produce a more effective knee drive (through hip flexion) as well as follow through (hip extension). Ankle mobility, on the other hand, allows you to raise your foot for clearance (ankle dorsiflexion) as well as absorb the forces as you land (ankle pronation and supination).
5. Have your running technique assessed by a professional
Running is something we seem to pick up rather than learn to do when growing up, however if we are doing a lot of it due to sport or fitness, there are great opportunities to improve our efficiency and reduce the risk of pain and injury. When working with a trained professional such as our running physiotherapists, we can provide a detailed and accurate evaluation of your strength, mobility and running style to determine why niggles, pain or injuries are occuring.
We take into account all the factors that can contribute to injuries such as training errors (doing too much too quickly, or not enough for too long!), muscle strength and mobility, the conditions you run or train in and anything else we see relevant specifically to you and your goals.
Often runners get advice on one aspect of running injuries, however when getting a detailed assessment by a trained health professional, we are able to provide a plan to cover every aspect of your situation. This may include a new training program, the addition of strength, mobility or accessory work depending on your needs and advice on appropriate footwear that may suit you better for your running style, foot type and running terrain.