The weather has shifted, signaling one of our favorite seasons at MoveMend: running season! It is such a great time of year to build up your strength and flexibility so that you can get out and run in the arboretum and avoid preventable injury. We are well versed in running mechanics and have years of experience treating acute and chronic running injuries such as low back strain, IT band syndrome, knee pain, hamstring strain, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendonitis. Most of these injuries are rooted in the same cause: too much training, too fast, with too little strength and flexibility. In this article I’ll give you some training parameters as well as some tips on how to preventing running injury.
The biggest mistake runners make this time of year is dusting off their running shoes, strapping them on, and attempting last season’s mileage after a running hiatus of 2 months or more. Ramping up exercise tolerance is one of the most basic rules to training. It’s better to start out a bit slower and a bit shorter than to go all out and end up with a season ending strain. Beginners should get out and run 1-4 miles for 3-4 weeks, just getting comfortable and settled with pounding the pavement. This is a good time to see if an injury is going to crop up, or if you are ready to increase mileage. More experienced runners should stick to the 10 percent rule, which states it is best to increase running mileage by no more than 10 percent each week, running 2-3 times per week. In this prep time, it is also good to test out your shoes, making sure that they have no more that 400-500 miles on them from last season and are holding up throughout your runs. If you experience pain on the inside or the back of your ankle or at your knee for the first few times out, you may need some better arch support. Keep in mind that this is often a simplification of the actual issue, so if your pain persists, seek advice from a Physical Therapist, do not go out and buy 3 different pairs of shoes.
Another thing people like to skimp on is the good, old-fashioned warm-up. It’s tempting to get excited and shoot out of the gate with a sprint. This is another example of one of those moments where good intentions can lead to annoying injury. Warming up with dynamic stretching sends oxygen-rich blood cells to your muscles, tendons, and ligaments preparing these tissues for the physical demands of running. Warm ups can be fun and exhilarating, boosting not only your heart-rate and metabolism, but also sending the signals to your brain to turn on that sympathetic, “fight or flight” response. In other words, after a long day of inactivity at work, it’s beneficial to rev the engine before leaving the starting line. Some examples of great dynamic warm-up exercises are skips, side shuffles, toy soldiers, walking knee to chest grabs, walking quad stretches, and butt kicks.
Last but not least, of course, is your cool down. Here is the biggest tip of the day. Unlike what many of us imagine when thinking about a post-run routine, the cool-down looks a lot like the warm-up. The reason for this is that both of these short pre and post-run routines are meant to round out the edges of your run and to bring your heart-rate to a moderate level, not a crawl. Keeping your heart-rate a bit elevated after a run helps flush the waste products out of your tissues and keeps blood from pooling in the extremities. Practically speaking, what this means is that you should never immediately finish a run with a standing stretching routine. A walking or gentle plyometric program including skips and hops, such as the dynamic stretches mentioned before, is perfect for slowing things down to a moderate pace vs grinding to a halt.
As you pass those amazing folks running toward that ascent up Madison Street, think about the ways that you could begin a safe and beneficial running routine. And, remember, walking at a good pace is also a great way to improve your cardiovascular health. It’s better just to get out there and try and consult your friendly professionals if something unexpected comes up. As we like to say at MoveMend, motion is lotion!
RYAN SIMMONS earned her doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Southern California, in 2010. She is a physical therapist at MoveMend, 2818 E. Madison St., in Madison Valley, Seattle.