It’s no secret that running is one of the best exercises you can do for your body. Not only can it help control your weight, running also burns fat, builds muscle, and strengthens bones. But unless you’re running safely, you won’t just miss out on the benefits; you’ll put your body at risk, too.
“Most running injuries are a result of doing too much, like going too fast or too far. Overuse can cause serious injuries like tendon tears or stress fractures and sideline you for awhile,” says Andrew Frankel, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Paoli Hospital.
And injuries aren’t just for newbies; experienced runners can also put themselves at risk for injury.
“Everyone has their limits,” says Dr. Frankel. “Pushing those limits—no many how many years you’ve been running—can have painful results.”
Although almost any runner has dealt with an injury at some point, there are steps you can take to decrease your risk or the severity of your injury.
Avoid doing too much
As most injuries are a result of overuse, make sure to increase your mileage and speed gradually. Instead of deciding to push your limits by an extra mile one day, consider a more patient approach. You shouldn’t be increasing your mileage by more than 10 percent each week. By building up slowly, you’ll save yourself pain and still be able to build a better routine.
If you’re racing or doing speedwork, make sure you aren’t doing it too often. Workouts like these should only be done once or twice a week. Remember to work in rest days during weeks when you’re running more often or faster than usual.
Treat your feet…
…to a good pair of shoes. A good run starts with the right footwear. The wrong shoe can cause pain in your feet, legs, hips, and knees. Although you can buy shoes anywhere, a specialty running store often has staff that include experienced runners and who can fit you for a good pair of sneakers. They’ll also be able to recommend orthotics, heel lifts, or insoles. Once you’ve found a pair, keep track of your mileage and replace your sneakers every 300-500 miles or every six months.
Remember to stretch
Although some studies claim that warm-ups and cool-downs before a run aren’t effective in reducing injuries, it doesn’t hurt to stretch before and after. Prior to your run, reserve a few minutes to walk at a comfortable pace. Following your walk, begin stretching, making every stretch last for 30 seconds. By warming up your muscles before stretching, you’ll reduce your risk of injuries or muscle tears. Following your run, reserve some time for stretching and a cool-down walk, too. Remember to rehydrate after the run. This will help flush out lactic acid and reduce muscle soreness.
Supplement with cross training
Running is a great exercise, but it shouldn’t be your only one. Once or twice a week, take some time to do strength training exercises at the gym. If you’ve never done strength training before, talk to a trainer or a professional who can help teach you exercises specifically for runners.
In addition to strength training, spend some time each week doing a type of aerobic exercise that is not running. Cycling, swimming, Pilates, and yoga are all good supplements to a regular running routine that focus on building strength and flexibility.
Following these tips can help reduce your risk of injury, but if you find yourself sidelined, follow a tried-and-true method for recovery: RICE. RICE, which stands for Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation, can relieve pain, reduce swelling, and protect your damaged tissues, all while speeding up the healing process. It’s most effective when it’s done immediately following an injury, so don’t wait too long to take action. Apply ice to the injury for 15 minutes at a time, several times a day. And, Dr. Frankel says, remember to take a break.
“RICE is only effective if you plan to take some time off, too. Don’t rush to get back to running, as that will only aggravate the injury. Give yourself the chance to take time off and give your injury time to heal,” he says.
If it’s been more than a week and your injury still doesn’t show signs of healing, it may be time to make an appointment with an orthopedist. Visit mainlinehealth.org/findadoctor to find a Main Line Health orthopedist in your area.