Generally speaking, the vast majority of overuse injuries associated with running can be avoided by utilizing commonsense and not exposing your body to sudden, high levels of orthopedic stress. Here are some basic guidelines for sidestepping running related overuse injuries:
- Stretch before and after exercising. Proper stretching can mean the difference between pain and enjoyment, and can provide several potential benefits, including improving joint flexibility, enhancing performance and reducing injury potential. As a general rule, always precede stretching exercises with at least five minutes of low-intensity physical activity. Follow with gentle dynamic-type stretches before a workout and static stretches after exercise.
- Increase your mileage sensibly. Avoid doing too much exercise too soon. A general guideline is to limit any increase in weekly distance to 10 percent or less of the previous week’s total mileage. Contrary to what some people believe, more is not always better. Instead, limit your total weekly mileage to a reasonable level according to your fitness level, body size and training experience. Exercising too much substantially increases your chances of sustaining an overuse injury. Remember: Exercise quality is more important than quantity.
- Don’t subject your body to consecutive days of very intense exercise. Always follow a relatively “hard” day of exercising with an easier day. If you run considerably faster and farther than usual on a particular day, take the next day off or decrease the duration and/or intensity of your next workout.
- Incorporate an occasional “easy” week into your exercise regimen. Keep in mind that you don’t need to increase your mileage every week to continue to benefit from your training efforts. Some level of physical and/or psychological fatigue is natural following a steady diet of hard workouts. Fatigue may increase the likelihood of injury because it can diminish the precision of motor control and inhibit voluntary muscle-stabilizing activity.
- Don’t ignore sudden pain or discomfort. Pain is the body’s way of telling you that if you persist in what you’re doing, you will either injure yourself or exacerbate a relatively minor injury that has already occurred. You must learn to listen to your body and respond appropriately. The acronym “RICE” (rest, ice, compression and elevation) should serve as the basis of treatment for most minor injuries such as pulled or strained muscles and shin splits). If your acute pain does not respond to self-treatment within a reasonable period of time, see a physician, preferably a sports medicine specialist.
- Don’t try to “run through” pain. If you alter your normal running mechanics in an effort to accommodate pain or discomfort, you may place excessive stress on your joints, muscles and connective tissues (ligaments and tendons). Refrain from exercising until the pain subsides and no longer interferes with your natural running pattern.
- Periodically replace your running shoes. Proper footwear can have a significant impact on minimizing your chances of being injured. Record your mileage daily and replace your running shoes every 350-500 miles.
- Vary your workout options. Give your joints and muscles an occasional break from the “same old grind.” Engage in other forms of low-impact, joint-friendly exercises such as elliptical cross-training, cycling or swimming, in addition to running. Exercise variety can be both physically and mentally refreshing.
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