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Running injuries - prevention and treatment

‘Run like the wind’, ‘running free’, even ‘run, Forrest, run!’ All these quotes are true – running can make you feel great. But not if you’re injured – and that’s a real risk with such a high-impact activity. So we’ve put together some advice to help you keep the chance of that happening to a minimum.

What you eat and drink before, during and after running can affect your performance and recovery. Take a look at our more detailed information on nutrition and hydration for exercise. You can also read our general content on avoiding sports injuries.

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Strength training exercises
Catherine Potter

Details

  • Warm up and cool down Warm up and cool down

    A warm-up gets your body ready for exercise, and helps to reduce the chance of damage to the muscles and joints that you’ll be using. A gentle jog for five minutes to slightly raise your heart rate is ideal, maybe followed by some dynamic (moving) stretches and striding. This will get you thinking about how you run and may help to slightly increase your pace.

    It’s sensible to end any exercise by gradually cooling down rather than stopping suddenly and dashing for the shower. This brings your heart rate and temperature down more slowly and your body and mind back to normal. Cool down by doing about five minutes of activity at a slower pace or simply by easing off whatever activity you’re doing. So for running, cooling down could be finishing your workout with a gentle jog.

    After cooling down, you may want to stretch out. That said, the jury’s still out on whether this can reduce your risk of injury or soreness after exercise. If you do stretch, focus on the muscles you used during your run – quadriceps (thighs), calves, hamstrings, hips and back. Hold them for at least 10 seconds and take care not to bounce. And remember, pain isn’t always gain – stretches shouldn’t hurt.

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    Stretching
    Stretches for your calf, quadricep, hamstring, chest, shoulder and tricep
  • Running technique Running technique

    Every runner is unique making everyone’s style of running different. But running is a skill so, as with any other sport, you can improve with proper coaching. We’ve put together some guidelines that aim to help you make your running technique more efficient. They could also help to reduce your risk of injury.

    Body part
    Running technique
    Head
    ‘Run tall’. Hold your head up and look in front of you rather than down.
    Arms Try to relax your arms and bend your elbows slightly. Aim to swing them forwards and backwards without crossing them over your body. This will help to keep you balanced and moving forwards.
    Body and hips Keep your torso pretty much upright but slightly further forwards than your pelvis and try not to twist your body. There are lots of muscles in your tummy (abdomen) and the strength of these helps to keep you breathing and protect your back.
    Legs and knees Relax your legs and don’t feel that you need to bring your knees up too high. Rather you’re aiming to kick your buttocks with your heel.
    Foot strike The part of your foot you land on varies a lot between runners. Some people land on the ball of their foot, others on the middle part (mid-foot) and some on their heels. It can be hard to change the part of your foot you land on and unless you think it’s causing injury, there’s probably no need to. But you might find it helpful to get a proper gait analysis from a physiotherapist.
  • Strengthening exercises Strengthening exercises

    Something else that can help to reduce your risk of running injuries is resistance training. Doing some simple exercises to strengthen your muscles, bones and joints may also improve how far and how fast you can run.

    Bupa physiotherapist Elinor East gives this advice:

    “You use a range of muscles when you run. The big gluteal muscles in your buttocks are some of the most important along with the quadriceps and hamstrings at the front and back of your thighs. But that’s not to forget your calf muscles or your core muscles.”

    Try these exercises recommended by Elinor to help to build up your strength for running.

    Squats

      1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
      2. Slowly bend your knees and imagine you’re sitting down into a very low seat. Concentrate on using your core muscles and tuck your tailbone underneath. Your chest will be leaning slightly forwards so that you keep your balance.
      3. Slowly stand up again, driving through your heels to engage your gluteals.

    Lunges

      1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
      2. Take a moderate step forwards. Without over-striding, lower down so that your knee is at 90 degrees and directly above your toes.
      3. Then by driving upwards with your front leg, return to your starting position. Alternate stepping forwards with your right and left legs.

    Single leg dips

      1. Stand on one leg – make sure you’ve got your balance, use something for support if you need to.
      2. Slowly bend the knee of the leg you’re standing on and keep your kneecap in line with your second toe. Try to keep it straight and not leaning in- or outwards.
      3. Then straighten your knee to return to your starting position.

    Calf raises

      1. Stand with the front of your foot on the edge of a step.
      2. Slowly raise both your heels from the edge of the step and onto your toes (hold onto something for balance if you need to). Then lower back down.
      3. Repeat up to 12 times. As you get stronger, you can progress to doing one leg at a time.
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    Core stability exercises
  • Physiotherapy

    At our Health Centres, we offer self-pay health services for a wide range of conditions, including physiotherapy.

  • Treatment Treatment of injuries

    Unfortunately, sometimes despite your best efforts, injuries will happen. You can treat lots of minor sprains and strains yourself using the simple PRICE procedure without needing to see a doctor. Start this as soon as you can after the injury occurs – don’t wait and tell yourself it will get better. If you need to, you can take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol – speak to a pharmacist if you’re not sure what type’s best for you.

    PRICE

    • Protect your injury from further harm.
    • Rest the injured area. Gradually start moving it again as soon as you can.
    • Ice your injury to reduce swelling and bruising. If you have an ice pack, that’s great but if not, a bag of frozen peas will work just as well. Make sure you wrap whatever you’re using in a towel or cloth – don’t put the ice directly onto your skin.
    • Compress the injured area. You can buy elasticated tubular bandages at a chemist or even some supermarkets.
    • Elevate the injury as this will help reduce swelling too. A pillow on a chair or stool works well. And the higher the better – above the level of your heart if you can.

    HARM

    As well as the things you can do to help your injury, there are a few things it’s better not to do for the first three days. A helpful way to remember these is as HARM.

    • Heat. Don’t use heat packs or hot water bottles on the injured area. And don’t have hot baths or saunas.
    • Alcohol. Try to stay off alcohol for a few days as it can cause more bleeding and swelling. And that will mean it takes longer for your injury to get better.
    • Running. Don’t even think about trying to run on your injury! Or do any other form of strenuous exercise for that matter, as it will only make it worse.
    • Massage. This could also increase bleeding and swelling in the area.

    Generally, it’s recommended that you start to move and put weight on the injured area as soon as you’re able. If this is really painful or it gets worse, see a physiotherapist or your GP.

  • Resources Resources

    Sources

    • Delayed onset muscle soreness. American College of Sports Medicine. www.acsm.org, published 2011
    • Lauersen JB, Bertelsen DM, Andersen LB. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries. Br J Sports Med 2014; 48(11):871–77
    • Running and your feet. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. www.aapsm.org, accessed June 2015
    • Keeping up with cooling down. American College of Sports Medicine. http://certification.acsm.org, published April 2013
    • Nicola T, Jewison DJ. The anatomy and biomechanics of running. Clinics in Sports Medicine 2012; 31(2):187–201. doi:10.1016/j.csm.2011.10.001
    • Running style. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. www.aapsm.org, published 2002
    • Buchen L. A softer ride for barefoot runners. Nature (news) 2010; 27 January. www.nature.com. doi:10.1038/news.2010.36
    • Resistance training and injury prevention. American College of Sports Medicine. www.acsm.org, accessed June 2015
    • Musculoskeletal sprains and strains. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published November 2014
    • Sprains and strains. Management. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published April 2015
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    Produced by Polly Kerr, Bupa Health Content Team, August 2015.

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