During the course of a year, it’s estimated that nearly 80 percent of recreational runners will sustain a running-related injury.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to see some participants at local races and marathons walking around with braces, compression sleeves, tape or special shoes. This is because running is a complex functional human movement that few people are taught to perform correctly.
Despite running being a complex skill, most physical education, cross country and track practices simply consist of a short warm-up before participants start running. A baseball or softball pitcher, on the other hand, has a warm-up routine focused on skill development and technique in order to complete consistent and efficient movement to maximize output. If the same approach is taken with running, warm-ups should be spent learning and practicing proper technique to lessen stress on joints and decrease the risk of injury.
Inefficient running form can lead to common lower extremity injuries including plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, “runners knee,” hip flexor tendinitis, low back pain or neck pain.
Fortunately, there are steps runners can take to improve their form and minimize the risk of injury, including:
1. Proper Warm-Up – Runners should complete a dynamic warm-up to activate their feet, hips and core. A proper warm-up will increase blood flow to muscles and joints properly and prepare an athlete’s body for the run ahead.
2. Neutral Start Position – Runners that begin in a bad position are likely to end in a bad position. It is best to begin runs with a neutral neck aligned over the shoulders, a neutral low back without a large backward curve and with feet straight forward positioned with proper arch height.
3. Build Strong Feet – Cushioned shoes with large heels inhibit the small muscles of a runner’s feet. Building the strength of the foot will decrease the need for these types of stable shoes. As a runner’s foot strength improves, it is okay to transition from stable shoes to neutral shoes that have less drop from heel to toe. It is important for runners to use caution, however, as minimalist shoes can lead to injuries if used on feet with poor strength.
4. Don’t Heel Strike – Runners should avoid landing on their heels because it increases stress on the foot, knee and lower back.
5. Increase Step Frequency – Taking more steps can actually decrease stress on the joints, which minimizes the risk of injury3.
6. Positional Awareness – Runners should make an effort to recognize bad running positions and change their position when needed – especially as fatigue sets in. For help with recognizing poor technique, runners can request a video gait analysis at Athletico, which provides real-time audio and visual feedback on running style. With this analysis, Athletico’s physical therapists will be able to provide feedback on running technique and improve the patient’s efficiency. What’s more, physical therapists can help runners develop a proper warm-up focused on skill development as well as a post-injury warm-up to minimize future injuries and improve efficiency.
If you would like to learn more about running tips, endurance or injury prevention from an Athletico physical therapist, please click to request an appointment!