It’s running season again and with several local races coming up we’re starting to see
an uptick in running-related injuries in the clinic. This is anything from plantar fasciitis (pain in the bottom of the foot) to shin, knee, and hip pain as well as low back pain. So why do some runners never seem to get injured while others have a hard time running several days in a row let alone a race training schedule?
For most, it is in how they prepare to run. If you’re over 25, gone are the days when you can just lace up the shoes and head out the door. That’s especially true if you are hitting 40+. Often if we are missing strength in our knee stabilizers or missing mobility in our ankles, the force of each step is then pushed into the joints. This often leads to achy knees when going up or downstairs, foot pain that you notice when you first step out of bed, or low back and hip pain as you add miles to your training program. It helps to know exactly what each joint needs and how each joint is at the mercy of the joints and muscles above and below (so if you are having knee issues, often the ankles or the hips can be part of the problem). Why do you ask? While a previous injury is the number one risk for a later injury, the number two risk factor for an injury is a difference in strength, stability, or mobility when you compare one leg to the other. In fact, with a reach test, a difference of just 1.6 inches is enough to increase your risk of an ACL tear. How? Because often other areas that aren’t meant to do certain movements are called upon to do that movement and this often leaves them achy, stiff, and sore. Example? How about your hamstrings that no matter how much you stretch them they always seem to stiffen back up? Why? Could be from your back, could be from your glutes, or could be from your knee…regardless of the cause, stretching your hamstrings is treating the victim…not the cause. Learn the Top 3 Run Faults that often lead to injury
Mistake #1 Not taking enough time to prep the joints and muscles for action
Often when we’re feeling stiff or achy, the joints of the spine, hips, knee, ankle, and foot are often to blame. For example, if I have too much stiffness in my ankle then it can’t absorb my impact as I’m running and transfer to the muscles. Instead, it makes the foot or the knee have to compensate. This then tells your nervous system that there is some error going on which then makes your muscles supporting the ankle and foot stiffen up to try to protect it.
Often when you fix the mobility of the stiff joint, then the joints above and below as well as the muscles supporting them are now able to work like they’re meant to. Joints that need more mobility: ankles, hips, and mid-back. Just like those knots you get between your shoulder blades when you are driving too long or sitting in front of a computer, your body can have them in any muscle (and often does). They often feel like tight little balls of muscle, when you push on them they can sometimes hurt (just ask anybody who’s tried to foam roll their IT band).
So, as part of your warm-up and run prep, use a foam roller, peanut, or lacrosse ball to “scan” for areas of pain or tightness. These are the muscles that will often be overly sore from your workout or run. This is mostly because they can’t work the way they were meant to when they have these knots and your body often tells other muscles to pick up the slack (in jobs they weren’t meant to do) leading to more tightness and soreness. Once you’ve found the “spot” then do 1-2 minutes of yoga breathing to get that knot to release and move on to other knots.
Pro tip: You don’t need to smash the muscle, just enough pressure to know you’re on the spot is enough.
Mistake #2 Not fixing the foundation
Most of the runners I treat were able to get away with running without training for it (like lifting weights, foam rolling, stretching, etc…) until they picked up an injury. Often there isn’t any single moment they can think of that caused the injury. Whether that is runner’s knee aka patellofemoral pain syndrome, plantar fasciitis, or hip bursitis often these injuries creep up on you. Sometimes you rest to “fix it” or start limiting your miles but it often flares back up once you get back into training. With most of the runners that I see with this kind of pain, often they haven’t trained their control muscles like the “rotator cuff of the hip” muscles the glutes and piriformis. This often leads to the thigh bone (of the femur) rotating when you make an impact with the ground which then grinds your kneecap on the outside of the groove it slides in and then makes your arch flatten out putting extra stress on the plantar fascia and joints of the foot. Sometimes it comes up from the foot where we don’t vary the shoes or lack of them and our “tires are flat” i.e. our foot muscles can’t support us. Our main muscles, the calves, quads, and hamstrings are strong but the supporting crew is weak. It's basically like shooting a cannon from a canoe. Taking care of these hip “rotator cuff” muscles and building stronger foot control muscles usually fixes a lot of the underlying stability problems. Learn More: 4 Underused Exercises for Fixing or Preventing Knee Pain
Mistake #3 Not varying the surfaces
Always make left turns at the track? Always running on the side of the road? Never varying your route? All of these can make for imbalances and repetitive motion injuries. It also makes it so our stride doesn’t vary as it might if we were doing different surfaces and while using different stride lengths actually strengthening our stabilizers. Try varying your surfaces, maybe making one day a trail day, another a hilly neighborhood day, and another a road day and see if that starts to not only improve your stiffness or pain but also gives your body the break it needs from the same repetitive motion.
Bonus Mistake: Too many miles on the
tires. I’m guilty of this, wearing my shoes
until I can’t help but notice that my feet
and knees no longer feel good in the shoes
and that I actually feel better in other shoes than my running shoes or I’m now slipping and sliding on trails even if I’ve still got some tread left. Usually, that means it is time to get a new pair of shoes.
Want to learn more about how to reduce stiffness and improve your flexibility? Register for our free on-demand workshop, How to Exercise Pain-Free and Reach Your Fitness Goals in 2022. Want a more personalized solution? Request your free consultation, the Total Body Diagnostic test here to get started today.