How to prevent common running injuries through flexibility and strength training

Running is great. It requires no equipment or gym membership. All you need is a good pair of running shoes and time.

But running also places great stress on your legs. If you don’t take preventative measures—namely focusing on flexibility and strength training—then you’re placing yourself at a high risk of developing an overuse injury.

Common injuries like plantar fasciitis, shin splints and IT band syndromes can put you on the bench for weeks, and sometimes months. So how do you prevent running injuries?

Well, for starters, make sure you are stretching regularly and make strength training a priority. But it goes so much deeper than that. Preventing injuries is simple, as long as you know what to do.

Whether you’re simply trying to prevent injury, or you need to treat an existing one, here are some tips for preventing or treating plantar fasciitis, shin splints and IT band syndrome.
 

Plantar fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is an inflammation of the fascia—the ligament connecting your heel to your toes, supporting your arch. It is common to those who are on their feet often, specifically runners.

If you have plantar fasciitis, you might experience pain in the bottom of your foot when you walk. Typically, plantar fasciitis is usually caused by inadequate stretching of your Achilles and calves, or due to overpronation—your feet rolling inward toward your arch—while running.

Is the bottom of your foot hurting while walking? Then listen to your body and stop running! When it comes to plantar fasciitis, it’s best to seek medical attention from your physical therapist.

Still, when it comes to preventing your plantar fasciitis from worsening—or preventing it all together—there are some things I’d recommend you do:

  • Get new shoes!
    I’m not talking about going to the store and getting the cutest shoes you can find (although you don’t have to choose the ugliest ones, either!).No, I’d suggest going to a running specialty store and getting advice on which shoes will help to correct your stride.At reputable running stores, they’ll look at how you walk or run and point you toward shoes that will help prevent the overpronation that might be causing the inflammation of your fascia.Worn out shoes are often a partial culprit of plantar fasciitis. Think about it: if your shoes are worn, they aren’t able to effectively support your foot while you run.To prevent injury, the rule of thumb is that you should buy shoes specific to running—and your particular stride—and replace them every 300-500 miles, or when the sole wears out.
  • Stretch before and after you run
    Stretch! Tight Achilles and calf muscles are often a partial cause of plantar fasciitis. That’s why flexibility needs to be a part of any runner’s exercise routine.As far as calves go, I’d recommend stretching your gastroc—a calf muscle. Stand on a stair step with your heel hanging off and bend your knee slightly until you feel the stretch in your calf.
  • Water bottle roll out
    Ice can help decrease inflammation in your foot. So can a foam roller.Get the best of both worlds by freezing a water bottle and using along the bottom of your foot to roll out your fascia and decrease swelling.
  • Listen to your body
    If there are certain exercises that are making it flare up, STOP! You’ll only worsen your injury by pushing yourself when it hurts. Modify your routine or take a break to prevent worsening of your plantar fasciitis.

 

Pelvic Floor

You’ve had a baby and now you notice your pelvic floor is weak.  I understand that runners are a unique and wonderful group and are very driven to return to their sport. I also know that most runners are going to return to running regardless. Trust me, I know… I am one of you. My hope is that we can help you run with less  impact on your pelvic floor. Regardless of if you had your baby/babies via vaginal delivery or c-section, your pelvic floor was impacted.

For 10 months (seriously… whoever said pregnancy was 9 months obviously never was pregnant 😉), your pelvic floor kept that baby in and supported you both… That is a ton of work. Taking time to re-educated and strengthen your pelvic floor before you return to running and while you are running is so very important. It is not normal for you to pee every time you laugh, cough, sneeze, jump… Moms, you are incredibly selfless and put your kiddos’ needs before your own! Please do not put your pelvic floor and core in the back seat, mommas! You do not have to put up with pelvic pain and incontinence.

The pelvic floor’s primary job is to keep that baby in and then afterwards to keep your insides… well… in. Think of it as a hammock that holds your bladder and reproductive organs in and attaches to the front and back of your pelvis. These muscles work all day long. 24/7. They work in conjunction with the TA to stabilize the core. Any insufficiencies in these muscles can cause pain, incontinence and altered movement. A study by Poświata in 2014, found that 45.54% of the 112 elite female endurance athletes (runners and cross-country skiers) polled, suffered from incontinence. It is so common ladies! You are not alone! Read at the end of this section for your pelvic floor exercises.

To keep your core healthy during & after pregnancy you should incorporate our Daily Core exercises.  You will find these core exercises, as well as the runner’s diet and more in our MIF Membership – you can try it free here!

Shin splints

Shin splints is a general term that describes swelling and pain localized in either the outside or middle of your shin. Usually, shin splints are caused by a dramatic increase of stress on your legs due to physical activities.

Beginning runners who try to run too many miles right out of the gate are especially susceptible to shin splints. Still, experienced runners can get shin splints if they dramatically change their workout routine, increasing intensity or mileage too quickly.

It’s important to note: the biggest key to preventing shin splints is to gradually increase mileage. Never go from nothing to 40 miles a week right away—gradually increase so your body can adjust to your increased exercise.

Here are some ways to treat and prevent shin splints:

  • Switch it up
    One possible cause of shin splints is running on hills, cambered or paved surfaces, or running too many track workouts in the same direction.If your shins are hurting, try to run on soft surfaces—trails are great for this—or, if you run on a track, switch directions every Avoid concrete or asphalt where possible, as hard surfaces can aggravate shin splints and put undue stress on your legs.It’s also okay to stop running entirely for a couple weeks until the pain goes away—try cross training on a bike or in the pool to reduce stress on your shins. Listen to your body!
  • Get motion control shoes
    As with plantar fasciitis, you are at a higher risk for developing shin splints if your shoes are worn out. Do your feet a favor and give them the support they need to carry your body as you run. Motion control shoes can improve your stride and mitigate your symptoms.
  • Strengthen your legs
    Strength training is so important to runners! As you strengthen your legs with exercises like squats and lunges, you are giving your body the resilience it needs to withstand the stress running puts on your legs.For a leg strengthening workout, check out our healthy leg exercise routine from the Ignite Your Inner Athlete
  • Stretch with a foam roller
    Rolling your shins before and after your run can help stretch out your shin muscles, and reduce inflammation.If your shins hurt on the front outside—anterior shin splints—you also need to focus on stretching your calves. If the pain is localized to the middle of your shins—medial shin splints—focus on stretching your Achilles.
  • Wrap your shins before working out, ice afterward
    Wrapping your shins with tape or Ace bandages can help prevent stress by compressing your tendons against your shin, reducing stress. Many running stores also carry compression sleeves made specifically to help treat and prevent shin splints.Whether you tape, wrap or compress, the goal is to apply slight pressure from your ankle all the way up to your knee, covering the entirety of your shin.Icing your lower legs after a workout is also a good way to reduce inflammation and increase blood flow to your shins. It’s common for runners affected by shin splints to take a 10-minute ice bath directly after a workout.

IT Band Syndrome

Your iliotibial (IT) band spans from your hip to your outer knee to your shin. A common overuse injury, IT band syndrome is caused by worn shoes, running on cambered or downhill surfaces or always running track workouts in the same direction.

It results in swelling of your IT band on the outside of your knee, causing a sharp pain when you bend your knee. As a result, IT band syndrome is often confused with a knee injury, though an MRI can confirm its IT band syndrome by showing inflammation of your IT band.

IT band problems are especially common in women, as our hips force our knees to tilt inward, putting stress on your IT band.

It’s imperative that you seek medical treatment from a physical therapist if you suspect you have IT band syndrome. If left untreated, IT band syndrome can become chronic.  It can also lead to knee pain.

Here are some things that might help your IT band syndrome:

 

  • Tone up your leg muscles
    Try the Healthy Legs workout from our Ignite your Inner Athlete series.  Exercises like squats and lunges can help increase your leg strength and prevent or mitigate the effects of IT band syndrome.Do these exercises in front of a mirror, watching your alignment—make sure your knees aren’t turning in, as turn-in can actually aggravate your symptoms.I can’t reiterate enough: strength needs to be a part of your workout routine if you’re running.
  • New shoes, new shoes, new shoes
    You might be tired of hearing it by now, but running in worn out shoes put you at a high risk of developing injuries. Replace your shoes regularly to lessen symptoms and prevent new ones from forming.
  • Foam roll stretches after your workout
    After you finish a run—or any type of workout—be sure to stretch the outside of your knee with a foam roller to reduce swelling and increase blood flow to your inflamed IT band.

 

 

More than just running: The importance of strength and flexibility in injury prevention

All of the above are great ways to prevent or treat common running injuries. But, honestly, the best advice I can give about running injury prevention is to incorporate flexibility and strength training into your workout routine.

Why? Well, runners who stretch and strength train not only reduce their risk of injury, but also improve their performance.

Flexibility gives your body the length and range of motion to be able to move more freely, stride longer and prevent bad stride habits that can lead to injury.

Strength training gives your body the resilience it needs to withstand the immense stress running puts on your body. It is also proven to improve time to exhaustion and your overall speed.

Too often, though, runners forego strength and flexibility, focusing solely on mileage and pace. This leads to overuse injuries, and stunts your growth as a runner.

Instead, you need to have a workout regimen with equal parts flexibility, strength and running. You don’t need to run every day—try cross training with HIIT workouts, strength days and, of course, days off.

For a complete workout regimen with all of those elements, look to our Ignite Your Inner Athlete series. It is designed to awaken the athlete within you, giving you the strength, flexibility and speed you need to improve your running performance, jumpstart weight loss or just feel great about yourself.

Try our streaming service—with more than 150 on-the-go workouts made just for moms!—FREE for 7 days. Ignite your inner athlete today!

 

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