Prevent Athletic and Running Injuries
By: Dr. Peggy Malone
During my many adventures as an athlete, I have experienced injuries of all kinds. Most every athlete will suffer from an injury at some point in their career and every athlete will agree with me when I say that being injured is never fun.
Athletic or running injuries are annoying, painful, and they can take you away from your training and sometimes even your competition that you invested time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears into preparing for.
So as much as I can’t say I enjoyed any of my sports injuries, going through the injury and the recovery each time has given me insight and experience that I can now use to help the athletes that come into my office as patients.
An important way that I help athletes of all kinds, is by offering symptomatic relief when they are injured. That is definitely helpful to get them back to their sport, BUT…
…what I find more interesting and what is ultimately more powerful for the athlete is passing on AWARENESS of why they got injured in the first place and how they can avoid athletic injuries in the future.
Many people have been discouraged from running or participating in any athletic endeavors because they’ve been told over and over “Running is bad for you. It will ruin your joints and cause arthritis. Why would anyone want to do something that causes so many injuries?” As it turns out, most of these naysayers have never tried running themselves and they are just repeating what they have ‘heard’.
Let me clear this up for anyone who is hesitant to run or play sports because they think it’s bad for them or that it will ruin their bodies…
Running is Good for You!!! The human body was designed to run. It is a perfect motion machine. If you sit still all day (which most people do), you are more at risk of degenerative changes in your joints and even dying then those crazy folks outside running!
When you are running, you push your body against the ‘resistance’ of gravity and the ground. This stresses your musculoskeletal (muscles and joints) and cardiovascular (heart and lungs) systems. This is healthy stress that is good for your body provided you don’t overdo it or overwhelm the system.
Running and sporting activities are also good for you in that they often encourage social time with a group, friendships, fitness, challenge and fun!
So, yes, athletic injuries do happen when people embark on the journey of learning to run or play a new sport, but if you increase your AWARENESS and listen to your body and follow a few guidelines as you enter this amazing world of athletics, you will find that you can enjoy yourself AND avoid injury too!
Have Reasonable Goals: This is the unlikely place that injury prevention begins. If you take up running to make friends, increase your fitness and perhaps challenge yourself to make it to the finish line of a race ‘upright and smiling’, that is a whole different world than training to win a race or to break a record.
I find that many athletes get injured when they read industry magazines or they hear the chatter from far more experienced athletes and they are pushed to go further or faster than their bodies are capable of…just because someone else is.
This running/sports peer pressure is very common and as people get caught up in it, they forget the reasons why they began their athletic adventure and they end up with an injury. So, run because you want to run and do it for your reasons and no one elses….your body will thank you.
Avoid the Terrible Toos: I find that the number one reason that athletes get injured is that they disobey the rule of the Terrible Toos. Now you may have a different idea of this concept, especially if you have small children but what I’m referring to is:
If you push your training too much, too fast, too soon, you will end up injured. The athletes that I see in my office who are suffering with running injuries almost always fall into this category. This rule is especially relevant for beginners (anyone who has been running less than 3 years), anyone who has just come back to a sport after months or years off, and anyone who has been injured in the last 3-6 months.
Start Low and Go Slow: One of the best ways to avoid the Terrible Toos is to adhere to the ’10 percent Rule’ which states that you should never increase your weekly mileage or any one run by more than 10 percent over the previous week (or run).
Warm Up: Especially as we get older, the connective tissues and muscles around our joints are less flexible and less pliable than when we were younger. As a result, you can’t just stand up from sitting all day and jump right into your workout….you’ll get injured.
A 5-10 minute warm up will get blood pumping to your muscles and soft tissues and warm up your entire musculoskeletal system. As your body begins to generate heat, your connective tissues soften and become more pliable and are then less likely to get injured.
Once your body is warm, you can then stretch out any tight spots before you begin your workout.
Monitor Your Workout Surface: A soft even surface is the best to run on such as packed dirt or grass. When running around town, the asphalt road is softer than the concrete sidewalk. As we talked about in a previous post, it's good to mix it up sometimes and head out on the trails which will help to prevent injury.
Running during the winter months can put you at risk of injury if you aren’t careful because your workout surface is often a slippy, slidy, unstable snowy mess.
The other workout surface that is worth mentioning is one that contributes to many of the injuries I see in my office. In the fall when athletes are doing their big mileage getting ready for a late fall marathon or in late winter, early spring, when athletes are upping their mileage to get ready for spring marathons, they often run long distances on country roads that are sloped for water drainage.
The repetition on this slightly angled surface can lead to injuries in the feet, ankles, Achilles tendon, calves, knees and hips. Trying to find a flatter training run especially for distances longer than 20km (12 miles) to avoid these repetitive strain injuries.
Make Sure You Have Right Equipment: In a previous post, I discussed choosing the best shoe for your biomechanical pattern. This is important in making sure that you stay injury free. Remember that marketing of shoes and sports equipment can cause a lot of confusion that all too often leads to injury if you choose something based on hype instead of what works for you. Remember also, that shoes should be replaced every 6 months or every 500 miles (800km).
For sports other than running, the right equipment can help to keep you injury free. Helmets, gloves, padding are all designed to keep you safe. Make sure you get the help of a professional to make sure you’ve got the best equipment for you and your sport.
Include Cross Training: If you are doing one athletic activity exclusively, you will find that your body will get stronger in the muscles that you use to do that activity. Getting stronger is a good thing except that many of the muscles you are not using in that one activity can get weaker leading to an imbalance and then potentially, an injury.
Cross training will help you to manage these imbalances by including other athletic activities that will stretch and strengthen your whole body. For all athletes, cross training should mean including strength and flexibility training in their programs.
Recovery is Key: It is normal to have muscle soreness for up to 48 hours after a bout of exercise. This is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
Using an ice bath or ice packs after your workouts will greatly reduce this DOMS discomfort as will stretching post workout.
In your training you should plan such that you have at least 48 hours of recovery in between your hard workouts. If you feel pain that lasts longer than 48 hours and it’s not getting better, you should get it checked.
Athletic injuries are a part of participating in sport but it is definitely possible to enjoy your athletic pursuits while keeping your chances of injury as low as possible.
So, get out there and get moving! Your body will be much happier if you do.
PS – Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. Have an amazing holiday time filled with good food, family and gratitude.
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. Her weekly Television Series 'Living Well" inspires people from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.
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