This time of year, the number of runners on the road seems to increase exponentially. The weather is getting cooler, there is an abundance of local races from 5Ks to the marathon, and run groups and training programs pop up all over the area. But as more folks start running, more running-related injuries show up. Often, these injuries are avoidable. Too much too soon is frequently a contributing factor with new runners and those just getting back into running. However, even seasoned and elite runners and triathletes seem plagued with the same types of injuries as newer runners. And these injuries seem to linger season after season, year after year. The most common injuries involve the lower legs – Achilles tendonitis, plantar fascitis, iliotibial band syndrome, knee pain and shin pain. But what if that nagging lower leg injury that seems to recur year after year was avoidable with a few simple changes?
Strenghten the Glutes
Weak hips are the main cause of lower leg injuries. Weak glutes can affect the entire kinetic chain from the abs and lower back all the way to the foot. The gluteus muscles are the “powerhouse” muscles of the run – acting to stabilize the pelvis, extend the hip, and propel the body forward. This kinetic chain from the core to the foot needs to act in balance and proper alignment. If something is out of alignment or weak, the result is an injury – frequently somewhere further along the chain (perhaps even the Achilles or the foot). Add some single leg deadlifts and some one-leg squats to your routine.
Stretch the Hip Flexors
All too often, a runner’s hip-flexor muscles are too tight, exacerbating the effect of weak glutes. Sitting at a desk or in a car for long periods of time shorten and tighten these muscles. Stand up and move around frequently throughout the day. Frequently stretch these muscles – try the “runner’s stretch” and hold for at least 20-30 seconds per side.
Add Some Lateral Movement
Running and cycling involve repetitive front and back motion (extension and flexion at the hip and knee for example), with very little lateral motion (abduction and adduction). The result is an imbalance in the muscles involved in these lateral movements, which also serve to stabilize the body throughout the activity. Try some side leg lifts or external hip rotation exercises.
Get to Know the Foam Roller
Most people can’t afford to get a professional massage daily. The foam roller is the next best thing. This is an excellent tool to be used daily for injury prevention and to maintain flexibility. It is especially crucial for the treatment and prevention of IT band syndrome, but is an effective, easy-to-use tool for the entire body.
Spend Some Time Barefoot
In today’s society, most people spend the entire day in shoes. Over time, the feet become accustomed to being locked away in shoes and lose the ability to connect with the surface beneath them. This results in weakened muscles of the feet and ankles, as well as a decrease in the proprioception necessary for balance and proper movement. Strengthen the muscles in the feet and ankles for a reduced likelihood of plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and other ankle and foot injuries.