Running injury prevention strategies
Running has become one of the most common forms of physical activity in today’s
society. It can be a community building activity, a personal challenge and most importantly a
great work out. It is a sport that everyone can participate in; all you need is a good pair of shoes
and a little motivation. That being said running can be extremely hard on your body, especially
when you are just starting. We are finding that injuries among runners are very common. From
shin splints to rolled ankles no one is immune from getting hurt; however, here are some tips to
keep you healthy and on pace.
Do not do too much, too fast
When runners are just starting and begin to make progress, they tend to push their
limits. Although this is a great way to challenge yourself, it is important that you understand
your body has a threshold that when exceeded results in injury. Your mileage should be tracked
on both a daily and weekly basis. If you have never done much long-distance running, then your
weekly mileage should begin quite low. It is important that as you improve your mileage
increases gradually. A consensus among the running community is the rule of 10%. Do not
increase your mileage by any more than 10% on a week to week basis. For many runners and
new runners specifically, 10% may even be too much of a jump. This is why when preparing for
a distance race, whether it is a 10k, half marathon or a marathon it is recommended you start
as early as possible. Could you train and complete a half marathon in 6 weeks? Maybe, but the
toll it could take on your body and the injury risk you are exposing yourself to are likely not
worth it. A recent study showed that runners who only increased their mileage by 3% a week
had a much higher rate of success in their upcoming races than runners who ramped up their
So how do you know where to start? As a new runner, start with short runs and
accumulate miles over the week. It is important to understand how far you have been running,
so I recommend using an app on your phone such as “Map My Run” to help track each run.
As you gradually increase your miles, you will have to begin to listen to your body. If you find that
you are feeling fine after running 20 miles a week but when you increase it to 23 miles in a
week you have no pains and discomfort, you may have to dial back to 20 miles/week before
increasing more gradually.
Do not run through significant pain
As runners, we all understand some discomfort is a part of the sport. Your legs and feet
will likely be sore after a long run; however, if you begin to notice significant pain or discomfort
while running consider taking a break. Breaks are one of the hardest things to convince a
runner of doing, but it could save you from more severe injury. Aside from the odd rolled ankle,
very few running injuries are acute and traumatic. Far more commonly runners ignore the pain
and “tough it out” when they begin to feel discomfort.
This can result in a cumulative injury cycle. What is that you might ask? It means if you
continue to stress an injury by running, you will continue to make it worse and it can become a
much more significant issue. Sometimes all it takes is an extra day off when symptoms are
minor to allow your body to recover. This is important because if you have an injury, it is very
common for your body to adapt by altering your gait (running pattern.)
This may lead you to be less efficient, develop bad habits or in a worst-case scenario
cause an injury elsewhere in your body. Remember, everything is connected, so if you are
running with a limp the biomechanical stresses will be placed on a different part of your body.
Give your body a chance to recover and if you think that an injury is nagging have a medical
professional look at it. It is much more beneficial to have an injury taken care with a couple of
sessions of treatment rather than letting it persist and having to deal with it when it is much
more serious, and your recovery time is extended.
Cadence (Stride Length)
The amateur runner may not put much thought into their running beyond putting one
foot in front of the other, however, if you are finding yourself with consistent pain in your shins
or recurring lower leg injuries the way you run may be playing a role. New research has
demonstrated that when you take a longer stride as you run, the ground reaction force on your
legs will be increased. This increased force can lead to more injuries and micro traumas that can
lead to chronic injuries and discomfort.
If you think that this may be affecting your ability to run pain-free, try taking some
shorter runs and actively think about taking shorter steps while running. Your legs will have to
move faster to maintain the same pace as before, but you might find that you are injured less
often. It will take some time to retrain your brain to alter your running pattern, but with some
regular training, you should be able to make the transition.
Warming up and Flexibility
As with any other sport, it is essential that you warm up appropriately. A great way to
warm up your muscles before a run is to perform a dynamic warm up. This means warming up
while moving rather than a traditional static stretch.
Some great dynamic exercises to perform before running are:
1. Forward Lunges
2. Side Lunges
3. Body Weight Squats
4. High Knee walking
5. Single leg deadlifts
These are simple exercises that will get blood flow to the muscles and help prepare you to start
your work out.
After your run, it will be important to perform some stretching and foam rolling to help
your muscles recover. You can use any of your favorite stretches but plan to spend at least 15-
20 minutes stretching.
Foam rolling does not require you to spend extensive time per region. Some people get
carried away, but you only need to roll out the same spot for 1-2 minutes and move to the next.
This is a great tool to help target knots and trigger points in your muscles that may have
developed from your work out. If you have gone on an extended run (15 miles +), allow your
body to cool down and recover before stretching. When you are running longer distances, your
muscles will develop micro muscle tears which can be further injured if you stress the tissues
(as with a stretch) immediately after the run. Give yourself a couple of hours and make sure you
stretch before the end of the day.
- Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Water is always essential, but when training regularly
your body requires even more water than you might think.
- Fuel your body with nutrients: As you train you will be burning plenty of calories,
remember to replace them with a healthy diet including healthy fats, fruits, vegetables
and plenty of protein to aid in your recovery.
- Consider strength training in your program. A diverse workout plan is essential to safe
training, so just because you are training for a cardio event does not mean you can
neglect the weight room. The stronger you are, the easier it is to prevent injuries. You
may even use the weight room to target common weak muscles such as the glute
medius, hamstrings, etc. which can help you prevent injuries
- REST. REST. REST. I discussed maintaining a gradual increase in your mileage but
remember, your body needs time to recover. You can have an active rest day where you
go for a walk or a casual swim but give your body a break while training so it can recover
and help you perform to the best of your ability.
There are plenty of things you can do prevent injuries while training and these are just a
starting point. Implement as many of these strategies into your routine as you can, and you
will be running pain-free in no time!