When runners get hurt, we typically assume it’s due to a list of usual suspects—worn-out shoes, poor form, or running too many miles, too fast, before our bodies are ready.
The thinking goes that by changing shoes, our form, and resting some, the injury will disappear. And while these issues do cause problems, often they’re just magnifying underlying issues that are much more complex.
Often some muscles are overcompensating for muscle weaknesses in other areas to stabilize a joint, says Dr. Jamie Raymond, a sports chiropractor with Raymond Chiropractic and Sports Injury Center in Portland.
A quad can tighten because the hip flexor is turned off, a hamstring can pull because a glut isn’t firing, or shin splints can develop because the ankle stabilizers are weak.
“The higher the volume or intensity of training, the more likely these imbalances will manifest as an injury,” he says. “Figuring out the underlying imbalance and why it’s happening is the key to effectively treating most running injuries.”
Raymond estimates that overuse, old shoes, or poor form only account for less than 10 percent of the injuries he treats. The majority of break downs tend to be caused by core weakness, (which can be worse if you don’t do strength-training), and past injuries from things like car accidents, falls, and ankle sprains— that create unresolved muscle imbalances. A minority of issues stem from congenital issues like leg-length discrepencies.
Take IT Band Syndrome. It often improves with rest, then resurges as soon as you start running again. New shoes or increasing your stride rate might help. But often there are underlying problems that never were addressed, and are bound to keep causing problems. Raymond says he has seen cases where ankle injuries lead to weakness in the gluteal muscles; and excessive amounts of time driving lead to a loss of range of motion in the hips.
Follow these tips to stay injury-free:
Don’t just run. Because running is two-dimensional and repetitive, those who run and do nothing else, put themselves at risk for injury, Raymond says. “ There are other ways of getting the exercise high that will make you more overall fit and more injury resistant,” he says. So sign up for a triathlon this summer, and use the winter to cross-country ski. Those activities “lend to whole body fitness, unload impact stress, and let you get out and see more of what Maine has to offer,” he says.
Sit less. That morning run isn’t enough to undo the effects of spending long stretches of our days sitting at a desk. In a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers found that people spent an average of nine hours a day sitting, no matter how much they exercised. What’s more, when you’re sitting, certain muscles become tight and others become overstretched. Raymond recommends sit-stand workstations which many companies are now making available.
Strength train. That’s especially important given how much time we spend sitting at office desks. Hitting the gym twice a week at minimum will help. Focus on the core and the hips. “If you don’t enjoy it, just consider it paying your dues to be able to get out there and do what you really want to do—run,” says Raymond. One of the best resources to come along lately are core classes specifically designed for runners.
Loosen up. It’s not that running creates muscle tightness, says Raymond. Tightness is usually caused by stronger muscles overcompensating for weaker ones, combined with poor form and excessive sitting. “In a perfect world, if you were strong enough in the right areas, had ideal form, and sat less than two hours a day, you’d probably find you could get away with minimal stretching,” he adds. “Of course it’s not a perfect world so most runners should stretch.” The best time to do it: the first few minutes after a run, when your muscles are still warm.
Focus on your form. Virtually every other sport— from Nordic skiing to stand-up paddle-boarding and even cycling, involves learning technique. Running does too. Raymond recommends New Balance’s ‘Good Form Running’ website; “it has done a good job of distilling down the essential technique points,” he says.
Think about the long term. Take care of emerging injuries early on, so you can stick with running for life. “Just because you can push through pain doesn’t mean you should,” Raymond says. “Most runners, if they are honest with themselves, understand the difference between the appropriate pain of a hard workout versus. signals from the body that something is wrong.” Tuning out inappropriate pain just leads to compensation and often just set you up for a worse injury and even other injuries. Get to know your body: take a yoga or pilates class once or twice a week, spend time on a foam roller, learn some basic anatomy. This will make it easier to identify problems before they become full-blown injuries. Don’t ignore obvious warning signs that something is wrong; no one race is worth risking getting sidelined.
Sports chiropractors restore motion to joints, incorporate muscle release, and offer holistic rehab for running injuries. Learn more at http://www.raymondchiropractic.com/