Running is a great way to fight stress, stay in shape and, if you’re so inclined, flex your competitive spirit in races. But injuries can be a problem.
During the course of a year, 32 percent of long-distance runners and 52 percent of marathon runners experience an injury, according to research published in the journal American Family Physician. Novices are twice as likely to get injured.
“Because a runner is pounding the pavement for so long, it’s often just mechanical strain,” says Alan Shih, DPM, director of podiatry at Head to Toe Healthcare in Tucson. In fact, most injuries stem from overuse. Here are some ways to prevent such injuries
Wear the correct type of shoe based on your foot type and running style. It’s a good idea to get fitted at a store that specializes in running shoes..
1. Increase mileage by no more than 10 percent per week.
Your body grows stronger by being stressed in small increments, but starts to break down if it’s stressed too much. Going above 10 percent can tip it into breakdown mode.
2. Focus on one goal.
At any given time, aim to increase speed or distance, but not both. Focusing on only one will be more effective and is less likely to cause injury.
3. Vary the difficulty.
After doing a hard run, make the next one easy. “The body is like a cell phone,” says Shih. “If you continue to use it without recharging, it will eventually wear down.”
4. Beware of aging running shoes.
We often hear that shoes can last for 300 to 500 miles, but wear and tear depends on an individual’s body weight, hard or soft landings with each stride, and style of running. The tread may be in decent shape, while the cushioning has worn out. If you feel more achy than usual, your shoes could be over the hill.
5. Get an extra pair.
European researchers found that among experienced runners, rotating different pairs of running shoes reduced injuries by 39 percent. Because cushioning varies from one pair to another, the impact on lower legs is different, and there is less repetitive strain on tissues.
6. Cross train.
Weight training isn’t always popular among runners, “but proper strength training can help you overcome muscle imbalances that lead to injury, as well as strengthen connective tissues that help support your joints,” says Shih.
7. Don’t ignore pain.
The classic treatment is RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. To relieve pain and inflammation, use an ice pack for no more than 20 minutes, every four to six hours. After 48 to 72 hours, heat does a better job at promoting healing.
8. Don’t use drugs to push through pain.
Over-the-counter pain medications reduce inflammation and pain, but can lead to damage if you take them to get through a workout. “They do not speed healing,” says Shih, “and they allow you to overstress already damaged tissue.”
9. Recover with gentle exercise.
When recovering from an injury, says Shih, “Active rest, or easy exercise, is better than inactivity because it stimulates blood flow and promotes healing.” Consider swimming, water exercises, or cycling.
10. Pick up the pace gradually.
Once an injury has healed, it’s tempting to jump back in where you left off, but easing in gradually is more effective. “During the first few weeks back is when most people get reinjured,” says Shih.
11. Know when to get professional help.
If an injury isn’t healing, or you experience the same type of injury again and again, get it checked by a health professional. It could be a stress fracture. Flat feet or high arches can lead to repetitive injuries. Or, muscle imbalances in other parts of your body could be predisposing you to aches and pains.