Steps for Injury Prevention, Part 1
For some people, running is a big part of life, one that includes competing against other runners in marathons or triathlons. For others, running may be the mode of exercise they prefer to stay in shape.
For various athletes, it may be part of the sport or built into their conditioning. Yet for some others, it only happens when being chased.
Whatever the reason, running is a great way to exercise. It’s good for stress relief and it doesn’t cost a thing.
Whether you’ve been running for a long time or you’re just starting out, there are important things to know in order to avoid overuse injury – strength and stability of the trunk, flexibility, symmetry, biomechanics and shoe wear.
Lack of trunk strength and stability
The way the lower extremity is being loaded while running is the most important factor in developing running injuries. The pelvis and lower trunk should remain stable as the limbs and upper trunk move around them. Excess movement at the pelvis and lumbar spine make it more difficult to control what is happening in the lower extremities. For example, a person with excess rotation through the trunk may land on the outside of the foot and put more strain on the muscles that stabilize the ankle, which could lead to tendonitis.
Lack of flexibility
The overuse of muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues may be enough to cause a small amount of inflammation and scar tissue. Tight scar tissue may restrict range of motion and cause adaptive shortening of the soft tissue. This phenomenon often goes unnoticed until another problem occurs due to a change in the way the leg is loaded. For example, imagine a tight hamstring that restricts extension of the knee just before the heel strikes the ground. The lack of full extension causes the stride to shorten and forward momentum is decreased, putting more strain on the Achilles tendon of the tight leg. Another example - a tight hip flexor limits full extension during push off, forcing the leg to pull through in time for a heel strike on the opposite leg, causing overuse of the tight hip flexor.
Symmetry is important for all athletes, but especially high-mileage runners who need to keep themselves as balanced out as possible. Imagine a stock car pulling to one side. Eventually one tire will wear more than the others and cause a premature pit stop. It’s the same with a runner who is stronger in one leg than the other. Even a body in perfect balance can only take so much repetitive strain before it breaks down. It’s very important for performance and injury prevention to keep both sides equally strong and mobile when performing anything that requires a lot of repetitions. It’s common for runners to complain of pain on one side of the body, thinking it’s because that leg is weaker. Often, the leg they thought was weaker is actually the stronger leg – the one they overused to take strain off the weak leg. With the help of a physical therapist and a proper strengthening program, the weaker leg is brought to the level of the stronger leg - and the pain goes away.
Every runner should be evaluated for strength, flexibility and symmetry – but that’s not all. Biomechanics and proper shoe wear are also critical in order to perform at the highest potential with less chance of injury.