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How To Deal With Running Pains And Injuries

If you've been hitting the pavement more than than usual and feeling sore, keep reading.

With gyms shut these past few months, you may have turned to running outdoors to keep fit. Marvellous, except now your shins and knees are bothering you…

“It’s great that more of us have started running whilst working from home and actually finding time to exercise,” says senior physiotherapist, Maheen Gul. “However, I have been seeing a few more running related injuries in the clinic than usual.”

Ahead, she explains why these niggles and injuries happen and shares her advice on dealing with them.

Our increasingly sedentary lives don’t help

“More people have started running or the ones that were running have changed their programme, so they are either running more frequently or increased the distance as they have more time to exercise now,” Gul says.

She adds that being more sedentary and sitting for long periods can contribute to making your muscles and joints stiffer, so if you do go all out despite the stiffness, you could predispose yourself to injury.

To stretch or not to stretch before running

“There are different beliefs about stretching, but generally it is not a good idea to do static stretching when your body is not warmed up. Over stretching cold muscles could result in pulling or straining a muscle.”

It’s best to warm up with a light jog or some jumping jacks, before you do your static stretches and prior to running.

Try dynamic stretching instead

Gul says that dynamic stretching better prepares your muscles prior to exercise compared to static stretching.

“It doesn’t hinder performance in casual runners, but could affect performance in high level athletes that require their muscles to help with explosive movements such as sprinting or weight lifting,” she explains. “It is also thought to overwork and fatigue the muscle beforehand and impede performance.”

She recommends doing dynamic stretching as part of a warm-up before running; in addition to warming up the body, it improves blood flow to muscles and joint flexibility to prepare your body for the run. Start with a light jog or jumping jacks, then do high knees, butt kicks and leg swings.

“It is also good to think about why you are doing your stretching, is it because you want to train your flexibility or is it because you want to warm up? Flexibility training is different and requires a lot of work. Establish your aim and the flexibility required for your specific sport, then take it from there.”

Common running injuries and what to do about it

One of the most common injuries is runners’ knee aka Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, a condition whereby you feel pain around and underneath your kneecap. It may be accompanied by a grinding sensation or clicking sounds too.

“This is usually caused by repetitive knee movement. Some of the underlying causes could be due to muscle or structural imbalances, poor running gait and collapsed foot arches,” says Gul.

Other common issues include iliotibial band (ITB) irritation, Achilles, patella and gluteal tendinopathies.

“A lot of injuries are caused by imbalances. Some muscles are not working hard enough and some working too hard, and the tendon issues are usually due to poor loading capacity of the tendons. A structure tends to get injured if it is loaded beyond its load-bearing capacity.”

This is where strength training comes in. Prevent injuries by increasing these capacities and making sure that your structure is strong and flexible enough to meet the demands of running.

Stretching alone won’t help tight hamstrings

“Hamstrings work hard during running, so it is common that they feel tight and sore,” says Gul. “It is good to do self-myofascial releases with a trigger ball or a foam roller regularly for five minutes or so after running.”

Whilst it does feel good and improves blood flow into the muscles, stretching (hamstrings) alone may not physically lengthen the muscle tissue and will not do the job.

She advises incorporating a hamstring eccentric strengthening programme into your workouts to help lengthen and strengthen your hamstrings. An example of an eccentric hamstring strengthening exercise is a deadlift.

How long to avoid running for if you’ve got an injury

It depends.

“Some soft tissues injuries could prevent you from running for up to 4 weeks as that is how long it would take tissues to heal, whilst other injuries you could manage by making some modifications while continuing to run.”

A trigger ball or foam roller is useful for self-releases, but see a physiotherapist if you are experiencing pain or discomfort while running. They will be able to properly assess you, diagnose you and get to the root of the problem, which would get you up and running.

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