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How to Prevent Running Injuries

If you want to keep moving, you have to stay healthy.
If you want to keep moving, you have to stay healthy.
©iStockphoto/Richard Waters

If you love running and the mental and physical benefits it provides, then you know how frustrating injuries can be. They present a painful obstacle to overall fitness and the enjoyment of a popular hobby. Many running aficionados go a step further and call it a way of life which helps them experience nature, relieve stress, think through important events of the day and connect with fellow athletes in an atmosphere of healthy camaraderie. In short, when an injury interrupts their running routine, it also threatens to undermine the way they approach their lives.

Additionally, running injuries threaten to undermine an athlete's goals. When an important race is three months away and your doctor prescribes two months' worth of treatment and rehabilitation, it can become a physical impossibility to achieve a particular finish time. Highly competitive runners --whether they're Olympic-caliber or simply age-groupers hoping to qualify for a big race like the Boston Marathon -- know that they have to reach their fitness peak at specified times. Race organizers who host thousands of runners certainly don't alter their plans to meet the needs of an athlete dealing with an unfortunate setback.

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Fortunately there is a wealth of research that has been done on the causes of running-related injuries: from the back to the hip to knees, ankles and feet. People, after all, have been running since the dawn of time. Running injuries are usually treatable, and what's more, the vast majority of these maladies can be prevented in the first place.

Running enthusiasts would certainly, as the old saying goes, take an ounce of prevention over a pound of cure. Well, we can offer more than just an ounce of prevention. Jog on over to the next page to get a complete dose of insights on the matter.

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Runners tend to be a highly motivated collection of people. How else do they get out the door to huff and puff and sweat each day? Ironically, it's that mindset that often gets them in trouble. The No. 1 cause of running injuries is overuse [source: Pribut].

The human body does a terrific job of adapting to stress. That's what leads to physical fitness gains. But too much stress can lead to injury [source: Karp].

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Overtraining is one cause of each of the top five most common running injuries: Achilles tendonitis, chrondomalacia (also known as runner's knee), iliotibial band syndrome (discomfort on the outside of the knee, caused by irritation of the IT band), plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the muscle extending down the length of your foot) and shin splints [source: Burgess].

In addition to overtraining, other causes of running injuries include: improper footwear, a lack of strength and flexibility, and irregular biomechanics. Fortunately, each one of these areas can be dealt with relatively easily, before you take a single stride.

Running stores typically employ veteran runners and shoe experts who can analyze your foot and running stride to determine whether you underpronate (absorb a disproportionate amount of weight on the outside of your shoe), overpronate (strike the ground disproportionately on the inside of the shoe) or have an even heel-to-toe strike. Based on their analysis, they can suggest a shoe that best fits your needs.

Strength and flexibility training sounds unnecessary to some runners. It's true; you'd be hard-pressed to find many bodybuilders in your local road race. But strength is about more than sheer mass. Stronger muscle fibers are less likely to tear, and they offer a shock-absorbing benefit for your joints. Ligaments and tendons are also less susceptible to injury if you include strength training in your workout routine[source: Morris]. Additionally, regular stretching done before and, primarily, after a run can keep your muscles long and limber, resulting in a greater range of motion [source: Higdon].

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Motivation is great but overtraining is not.
Motivation is great but overtraining is not.
Hemera/Thinkstock

Every "Rocky" fan is familiar with the soundtrack-laden montages of Rocky Balboa getting ready for a fight. He sweats, strains and endures one painful workout after another. His efforts, of course, bring him peak fitness and success. But in real life, that's only half the story. Unfortunately, many runners either ignore or simply don't know this truth: Physical adaptations take place over time and require patience, restraint and regular windows of recovery.

Novice and advanced runners are encouraged to follow the 10 percent rule, which states you shouldn't increase your running mileage by more than 10 percent from one week to the next. If you currently run 30 miles a week, it would be a mistake to jump to 50 miles the following week. You may get away with it initially, but later you'll find yourself sick, injured, unmotivated or all of the above [sources: Morris, Klion].

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Understand also that overtraining is a relative term. A novice runner who is logging 20 miles a week can be overtraining, while an elite marathoner who runs 125 miles a week may be operating fully within his or her present capabilities. If you're feeling lethargic, irritable, or consistently sore, reduce your training load until the symptoms disappear [source: Aschwanden].

You've undoubtedly heard the maxim "no pain, no gain" but it's only partially accurate. Yes, there is discomfort involved with running (elevated heart rate, increase in body temperature, burning muscles) but true pain should be heeded. One way to measure the difference between discomfort and pain is in your running stride. If the pain you're feeling - - say, from a stabbing sensation in the shins -- forces you to alter your running form, you need to stop and seek medical help [source: Mann].

Keep in mind, your body doesn't actually adapt to training while you're training. It adapts during rest and recovery. Intense and consistent exercise without rest and recovery (that means 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night during heavy training) makes you susceptible to injury [source: Morris]. Many running coaches also subscribe to the hard-easy theory of training. It means that typically you should follow an intense day of training with an easier day. For example, a day of speed work at the track might be followed by a day consisting of a leisurely jog.

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Custom orthotics or over-the-counter insoles can prevent foot injuries.
Custom orthotics or over-the-counter insoles can prevent foot injuries.
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Let's face it, you can't make it far as a runner if your feet won't cooperate. Injuries ranging from blisters to plantar fasciitis are common. They're also preventable.

To prevent blisters, wear shoes suited to your feet. If your shoes are too big or small or are showing signs of excessive wear and tear, it's time to visit your local running store. And always break in a new pair of shoes before using them in a long run or race. You can also apply talcum powder or a running-specific lubricant like BodyGlide or 2Toms SportShield to your feet prior to your workout.

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More serious foot injuries are often caused by improper footwear and irregular biomechanics such as an uneven and awkward stride. A running store specialist can recommend a shoe that offers more or less support, according to your needs. Your doctor may prescribe custom orthotics, or you can simply experiment with over-the-counter insoles that can help even out your foot-strike [source: runnersrescue].

Your feet, like all other parts of the body, can also suffer from overuse. Ramp up your training gradually to allow the tendons, ligaments and muscles in your feet to feel only a mild stress, which will allow them to recover, adapt and become stronger.

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Related Articles

Sources

  • Higdon, Hal. "Hal Higdon's Smart Running." Rodale. 1998. (Aug. 29, 2010).
  • Pribut, M. Stephen. "Dr. Pribut's Running Injuries Page." Jan. 2004. (Aug. 29, 2010)http://www.drpribut.com/sports/pributruna.pdf
  • Karp, R. Jason. "Hey! Back Off!" March 11, 2004. (Aug. 29, 2010) Marathon & Beyond
  • Burgess, Teri. "The BIG Five - the 5 most common running injuries." (Aug. 29, 2010)http://www.time-to-run.com/injuries/thebig5/index.htm
  • "How to Choose a Running Shoe." The Running Advisor. (Aug. 29, 2010)http://www.the runningadvisor.com/running_shoes.html
  • Morris, Rick. "Top Ten Ways to Avoid Over Training." (Aug. 29, 2010)http://runningplanet.com/training/top-ten-ways-avoid-overtraining.html
  • Klion, Mark. Personal interview. Aug. 14, 2010.
  • Aschwanden, Christie. "Are You Overtraining." Runnersworld.com. Oct. 16, 2007 Aug. 29, 2010)http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120s6-241-285-8256-0,00.html
  • Mann, Denise. "Coping With Common Running Injuries." (Aug. 29, 2010)http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/coping-with-common-running -injuries
  • "Blisters and Running." Runnersrescue.com. (Aug. 29, 2010)http://www.runnersrescue.com/blisters_running.htm

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