Preventing running injuries

It seems these days that we all know someone who is training to run in a full or half marathon. These can be fun events and a great motivator for getting in shape. Running can certainly help shed unwanted weight and unleash the weekend warrior within, but you may find yourself singing a different tune come race day if you don’t take precautions.

Cody Olson, DO, an orthopedic surgeon with Banner Medical Group who specializes in sports medicine, says some of the biggest pitfalls faced by those starting up new running regimens come from doing too much too soon.

“Being energized and excited by the goal is great, but an overzealous approach to training can lead to a variety of injuries related to over conditioning.”

According to Olson, the most common running injuries faced by those who train too much or too often include:

  • Stress fractures (tiny cracks in the bones of the feet, ankles and lower legs)
  • Shin splints (pain along the shinbone on the front of the lower leg)
  • Achilles tendinitis (pain in the back of the leg near the heel)
  • Plantar fasciitis (heel pain)
  • Ankle sprains, which are most commonly associated with trail running.

For runners, adequate stretching is a must.

“In addition to overall stretching, it’s imperative that the calf muscles are thoroughly stretched before and after every run. As the most powerful muscles impacting the feet, the calf muscles essentially fight against those in the front of the leg when running. If the calves are not thoroughly stretched, the muscles in the front of the legs can become inflamed, ultimately resulting in shin splints.”

Tight calves or constant cramping are signs that you need to beef up your stretching. But if you do develop shin splints, Olson recommends that you continue stretching and modify your training program to prevent further pain and injury.

“Try running on softer surfaces like grass as opposed to asphalt or concrete sidewalks. You can also temporarily replace running with other lower-impact exercises like bicycling and swimming to give your leg muscles a chance to recover.”

Olson cites cross training as an often overlooked key to preventing running injuries. He says incorporating activities like weight lifting, yoga, cycling and swimming into your workout schedule can help limit stress on a certain muscle group by conditioning those muscles in a different way.

Another important step in preventing injury is choosing the right running shoe. Beyond making you look every bit the running guru, proper footgear can ensure a pleasant, productive and pain-free running experience.

The adage “you get what you pay for” holds a lot of truth when it comes to running shoes, so Olson urges runners to invest wisely. He says your shoes should provide comfort, support and stability.

Olson also notes that the tread on shoes wears differently when running versus walking, so he suggests reserving your running shoes for training and choosing a different pair for everyday wear.

In recent years, the barefoot running trend has made minimalist, low-profile running shoes popular. But hype isn’t always a good thing. Minimalist running shoes are associated with a greater number of stress fractures and other injuries, particularly among novice runners.

At the end of the day, Olson urges everyone to ease into a running routine; stretch, stretch and stretch some more; and lace up the right running shoes for your level of conditioning. Follow these tips and you’ll be ready for a marathon!