Running is a demanding sport. Many runners are driven individuals who are passionate about their performance and push themselves to the limits. However, with pushing limits come challenges, including running injuries.
Whether they’re beginners or seasoned athletes, runners tend to get hurt. Estimates of the exact number are wide-ranging, but sources approximate 20%-80% of runners suffer injuries each year.
Runners may consider injuries a given — the cost of pushing to go faster and farther. Those same runners would agree, however, that injuries impede their running routines and goals.
If, as a runner, your goal is to remain consistent, improve your pace, or simply feel good during and after your run, it’s important to make injury prevention a priority.
Common Running Injuries
No part of the body is immune to injury. You can pull a muscle in your ribs or throw out your back. Most often, however, runners injure their feet, legs, and knees.
Some of the most common running injuries are:
Preventing Running Injuries
The first step to preventing running injuries is changing your mindset. Certain aspects of running sometimes feel like “extra” steps that eat up training time.
In fact — focusing on your form, stretching, and strength training are integral to running. Arguably, they are the most important part because injury prevention is faster and easier than injury treatment.
Fix Your Running Form
Running is a sport of repetition — putting one foot in front of the other, step after step, run after run. As such, any existing malalignment is exacerbated by these motions and therefore more likely to eventually produce injury.
An orthopedic sports medicine doctor can evaluate your physiology, improve your form, and make training adjustments to help you avoid repetitive stress injuries.
Where’s the Best Place to Run?
Some of us like to tie our shoes and head straight out the door or hop right onto a treadmill. Others head to a favorite trail or stretch of sand.
Whatever your preference, the relative hardness and evenness of the surface will have an impact on your joints and muscles. Road running, trail running, and beach-front frolicking all have their own injury-causing and strength-promoting aspects.
Most roads slant down toward ditches, causing one hip of a road runner to tilt slightly lower than the other. This malalignment might go unnoticed initially but can lead to issues over time.
Trail running’s dangers lie in its uneven terrain and plethora of tripping hazards. As pace and distance increase, runners are more likely to catch a toe on a wayward rock or branch.
Beach running combines the slant of road running with the uneven terrain of trail running. Soft sand can lead to an increased risk of strains and sprains, though options like this are lower-impact and good for your joints. Additionally, the effort needed to propel yourself helps strengthen different sets of muscles.
Treadmill running might be the least scenic option, but if you work to land lightly on the consistently flat surface, you can maintain good posture and minimize joint impact. Treadmills do, however, offer an especially repetitive type of running. This can lead to muscular weaknesses and imbalances over time.
Stretching and Strength Training for Runners
When certain muscles are dysfunctional due to weakness or tightness, it can cause unnecessary strain and eventual injury to other joints and tissues.
Stretching improves range of motion and strengthening helps increase muscle tone and strength. This not only decreases your chance of injury, but it also increases your endurance.
There’s plenty of anti-stretching rhetoric in the world. Strength training isn’t always a priority for runners. Yet stretching and strength training are logical approaches to combating common running injuries caused by overusing tight and imbalanced muscles.
Build Strength and Endurance Gradually
As you become stronger and your endurance increases, you’ll likely need to hold yourself back from increasing your running frequency and distance too quickly. After all, runner’s high is real and running starts to become something you feel you need to do.
Long-term, running consistently beats burning out quickly from a debilitating injury. Increase the pace or distance of your runs by 3-10% each week or alternate hard runs and easy runs.
Breathe Through Your Nose While You Run
One way to keep your pace in check and help curb injuries caused by overtraining is to focus on nasal breathing.
Nasal breathing produces nitric oxide, a compound that increases oxygen delivery to your extremities (like your legs). It also filters and humidifies the air as you breathe in, which is beneficial for the health of your lungs. Mouth breathing does not provide these same benefits.
It’s also hard to do if you aren’t used to it, so you’ll be forced to back down a bit. In fact, it may seem impossible to exclusively nasal breathe at first. But — like increasing your speed and distance — go slowly and you’ll improve your nasal breathing ability with practice.
Treating Running Injuries
If your body does begin to tell you something’s not right, it’s important to react swiftly and take a few days off.
Give yourself time to fully heal and restart slowly. Don’t try to make up for lost runs when you first put your shoes back on. Instead, avoid further injury and setbacks by adjusting your goals.
When you return, run at half your normal effort. If that feels okay, you’re good to ease back in. If that does not feel okay, take another few days off before trying again.
If you’re serious about running, you must take injury prevention seriously as well.
See your sports medicine doctor to discuss treatment options for pesky injuries that just aren’t feeling better.
If you’re a new or seasoned runner with questions about acute or chronic pain, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to help!