Running is one of the most popular sports in the world. In the US alone, almost 50 million people participated in running in 2019. Running has enumerable health benefits. It can improve your stamina, strengthen your bones and muscles, help with weight management, and reduce your risk for multiple health conditions including cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurological diseases, and more. As with any sport, however, there is a potential for injury, especially when we are first starting out. Many runners will encounter some form of injury, but whether you are new to the sport or a long-time runner, following these guidelines can help reduce your risk for injury:
1) Build up your endurance
One of the most common ways to get an overuse injury is by doing too much, too quickly. When you are starting out, it is best to gradually increase the distance or time that you run, and gradually adjust your pace. This gives your body time to adjust to the new demands on your bones and muscles. Give yourself time to recover in between runs and listen to your body’s demands.
2) Find a running program
Whether there is a marathon on your bucket list, or you just want to gradually increase your distance and endurance, there are programs out there that are designed to help you reach these goals safely. For example, the Couch To 5K training plan and running guide is a great tool for beginners, and helps you progress in a way that helps prevent overuse injuries. For those who are looking for more advanced training, half- and full marathon training programs are available from Runner’s World, Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, and are often also available on the event websites.
3) Strength training
While it makes sense to want to focus on increasing your distance, strength training is equally important in preventing running injuries. When you run, you put three times your body weight (or more!) through your legs. Having good muscle strength helps keep your joints aligned properly and your muscles better prepared to control that load.
4) Set reasonable goals
Setting goals is a great way to visualize and maximize your success; however, it’s important to make sure you can achieve your goals without injury. If you’ve never run a 5k, 10k, or marathon before, make sure to pick an event far enough in the future that you’ll have enough time to complete a training program. This will help prevent injuries and sets you up for success!
5) Try a running analysis
If you do experience pain or injuries with running, a Physical Therapist might be able to help. A running analysis is an assessment that allows your PT break down your form to see what might be contributing to your problem(s). Your PT will take a video of you running and assess it frame-by-frame to look at your running mechanics and how those movements match with your problem areas, and/or areas that could be an issue in the future. They can then make recommendations for exercises, footwear, or changes to your running form to address them.
Despite our best efforts, overuse injuries are common and sometimes are unavoidable. It’s normal for muscles to be sore when you first start running or start increasing your distance. If you feel that you aren’t recovering between sessions, have pain that increases from run to run, have pain in your joints, or pain along a bone, however, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor or physical therapist regarding a possible injury.
“One of the best ways I’ve heard to look at running is that it’s not running that’s bad for you, it’s bad running,” said Physical Therapist, Rebecca Erlich of TPMG Physical Therapy. “Making sure that you take your time and use good form helps keep you active a lot longer.” Running is a sport that requires patience. You can change your shoes, change the surface you run on and the terrain, or change your distance/time spent running, but changing these things at the same time can often lead to overuse injuries.
Running injuries are painful, but they don’t necessarily mean it’s the end of the road. By setting reasonable goals, increasing your strength and endurance gradually, and finding a running program that matches your needs, you can cut down on needless injuries. If you’re looking for some help developing a running program or dealing with a running injury, consider speaking with a TPMG Physical Therapist today.
About Rebecca Erlich, PT, DPT, OCS
As a certified physical therapist, Rebecca Erlich, PT, DPT, OCS treats a variety of conditions but has a special interest in those pertaining to the shoulder, knee, and hip. She is experienced in video gait analysis—particularly evaluating running mechanics and the treatment and prevention of running injuries. Prior to joining TPMG, Rebecca had the opportunity to work at Fort Eustis, Virginia where she provided outpatient orthopedic services to active duty service members, veterans, and their families. While at Fort Eustis, Rebecca attended courses on manual therapy, aquatic rehab, sports rehabilitation, and received training in adaptive sports and rehab with the USOC Paralympic Committee. She was also the physical therapist for the All-Army Soccer team for three seasons. It was at Fort Eustis that she became interested in working with runners after treating many running injuries during her four-year tenure.
TPMG Physical Therapy welcomed Rebecca to their team of Physical Therapists in 2011.