Prevent Winter Running Injuries
By: Dr. Peggy Malone
Today we are going to talk about some of the common injuries that winter can throw at your body and how you can prevent them.
Many runners are currently increasing their mileage to get ready for spring marathons and other races over 25km.
There seems to be something magic about the 25km mark.
Most runners seem to be fine in their training to that point and then, right around this time of year when their long runs begin to edge over the 25km mark, that start marching into my office with more regularity.
We will explore why this may be the case but first:
There are a few things that you want to pay special attention to when you take your running or hiking or even just play outside in the colder months of the year so as to prevent injury and stay safe during your workout.
Dress in Layers in Moisture wicking Materials and protect your Hands, Feet and Head.
Being active outside comes with the possible risk of hypothermia and other cold maladies. Knowing what to where can be complicated by the fact that your body will be sweating if you are running or working hard outside.
Your first layer should be a thin, moisture wicking material that will pull the sweat away from your skin. You definitely should avoid cotton as it will hold the moisture and will keep you wet which can be extremely uncomfortable at any temperature but even more so when it dips below freezing.
A middle layer for insulation is definitely recommended when it gets really cold out. A thin fleece would be a good option here.
An outer breathable wind-resistant layer will protect you from the cold wind and snow or rain but will also allow heat and moisture to escape to keep you comfortable during your workout.
You want to make sure that you don’t overdress and feel toasty warm as soon as you go outside. You should actually feel a little chilly before you start your workout so that you’ll be comfortable when you get moving and start sweating.
A lot of heat can escape through your hands, feet and head. Make sure to where moisture wicking running gloves, medium weight synthetic socks (definitely no cotton socks) and a synthetic winter hat (we call it a toque in Canada 🙂 )
Warm Up is Extra Important in Cold Weather
We have talked in previous posts about how important warming up is for preventing injury. In cold weather it is especially important to pay attention to this part of your workout.
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. This applies even more so when it’s cold outside….so make sure that you warm up!
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.
In the winter months, you may want to warm up inside before you head out for your run or workout. It’s more difficult to warm up the soft tissues of your body when it’s below freezing outside.
When you are working out in the cold, you can sometimes be fooled into thinking that you don’t need as much water because it’s not the same feeling as when you are sweating like mad and feeling hot during a warmer weather workout.
As a result, you really need to monitor your water intake and make sure that you are regularly hydrating your body throughout your workout.
Your Winter Workout Surface Can Contribute to 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.
This unstable snowy surface often leads to repetitive strain injuries in the lower legs such as plantar fasciitis, achille’s tendinitis, shin splints. It could also lead to injury in the calves, knees and hips.
To avoid these injuries, adjust your expectations for speed and time when you are running in the winter. Know that the same distance is going to take you longer to run when the ground is slippery and snowy. You are still getting a great workout so try not to push to make a certain time.
You may also want to increase the stability of your shoes slightly when running. Some people change to a trail running shoe to better negotiate the different running surface.
The other workout surface that is worth mentioning is one that contributes to many of the injuries I see in my office at this time of year.
I mentioned above that 25km is the magic number where I start to see injured athletes. When athletes are doing their big mileage getting ready for a spring marathon or other big races, 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.
This can be a problem at any time of year, but I see it more during the winter months because the cold weather creates a situation where your muscles don’t adapt as well to the uneven terrain as well as fighting with the messy snow and ice.
Trying to find a flatter training run especially for distances longer than 20km (12 miles) to avoid these repetitive strain injuries.
As Always, Avoid the Terrible Toos
As we have discussed in the past, I find that the number one reason that athletes get injured is that they disobey the rule of the Terrible Toos.
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 can be especially relevant in the winter months as your body is working extra hard anyway to deal with the cold and any changes in terrain with snow and ice underfoot.
Follow the 48 Hour Rule. Don’t Ignore an Injury
At any time of the year when an injury rears it’s ugly head, it is human nature to think that it will get better. It is normal to have delayed onset muscle soreness (workout soreness) for up to 48 hours after a workout.
If you have pain or discomfort that last longer than 48 hours and it’s not resolving, then it’s time to get some help.
Go see a practitioner that has experience working with athletic injuries to get you back on track. The sooner you go, the sooner you can get back to your training.
Ok, now get outside and get your body moving in this beautiful winter wonderland!
Comment below and let me know what your favourite winter workout is!
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.