Six ways to avoid getting an injury while running

Nothing gets in the way of a good run like pain. So what stops some runners in their tracks? 

An annual AusPlay survey found that more than 3.3 million ran during the previous year. This is great news for the sport, but when you consider that up to 70 per cent of recreational and competitive runners sustain injuries during any 12-month period it makes you wonder: what are we doing wrong? 

The answer is most likely to be simply overtraining.

Sports Medicine Australia (SMA) says that 42 per cent of all running injuries are to the knee, followed by 17 per cent to the foot/ankle, 13 per cent to the lower leg and 11 per cent to the hip/pelvis. 

Over the top 

Overuse injuries can occur from training errors (running frequency, duration, distance, speed and lack of leg strength and flexibility) and inappropriate surfaces, terrain and footwear. SMA claims that overuse injuries, as a result of training errors, are more common than acute injuries such as ligament and muscle sprains and strains.

The most common overuse injuries are patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner's knee), iliotibial band friction syndrome, plantar fasciitis, meniscal injuries, tibial stress syndrome and patellar tendinopathy.

How to avoid injury 

Fortunately, most running injuries don't last long, but if you want to avoid injury then follow these tried and tested principles to stay in good health and shape. 

1. See the professionals  

If you're starting running, returning from a break or notice a worrying niggle then see a professional like a Sports Physiotherapist to identify potential musculoskeletal and health problems that may contribute to injury. They can identify and treat areas of the body that are weak and give you a tailored exercise program designed to help build strength, balance and flexibility. 

2. Warm up and cool down 

Always warm up and cool down by jogging slowly. When you wake in the morning or after a long day sitting at the office, your muscles and soft tissue are tight. As you move around, they stretch out and when you start to exercise they stretch even more. Our muscles work better (and are less prone to injury) when they've lengthened some. So don't skip a warm up before a training session. Start by jogging 10-minutes, cycling for five-minutes or skipping with a rope for a few minutes before running. 

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Cooling down can also help you avoid injury. Research has shown that a cruisey jog after a hard run can speed up recovery by removing lactic acid that may have built up in your muscles. 

3. Technique matters 

Pay attention to your form, even if you're not an elite runner. The better running mechanics you have, the easier running will feel, especially when you get tired. There are many different approaches to teaching correct running technique, so access professional guidance from a running coach or trainer. Not only can your technique and fitness improve, but you will help prevent injury.

4. Survey the surface

Run on a clear, smooth, even and reasonably soft surface. Avoid uneven surfaces, sand and concrete. Then gradually introduce surface changes. Asphalt roads absorb less energy, meaning they can be hard on the joints. The softest option is grass, which is far less strenuous on the body because absorbs most of the energy from your footfall, but the uneven surface can help to work the stabiliser muscles in the feet and lower legs. 

5. Shoe goals 

Wear shoes designed for running that match your foot type. When buying new shoes, have them fitted by a professional and take your old ones with you so the salesperson can identify where your shoes wear the most. Log the kilometres you've run in each pair of shoes and change them every 800 kilometres. Joint or shin soreness is the most obvious sign your shoes need replacing. 

6. Stretch it out 

Give your body, especially your legs some TLC after a workout. No matter the intensity of your workouts, it's important to stretch after a training session. Stretching helps to ease muscle soreness, release lactic acid, improve flexibility and prevent injuries. Check out these static stretching exercises that can help increase flexibility and target muscles that are prone to tightness from running.

If an injury strikes

Even if you train right and follow these tips, injury can strike. If this happens, rest or modify your activity to allow overuse injuries to heal and inflammation to subside. Then gradually return to running (10 per cent increase in distance per week) once flexibility, strength and endurance have returned. And remember - if you suffer severe or continuing pain, swelling or loss of motion, seek medical attention. 

The high of crossing the finish line inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. Whether you're a newbie to the running scene or a seasoned athlete, Laura brings the latest running trends and gear to readers across Australia. With a day job in the corporate world and a busy toddler, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to sharpen her mind and challenge her body.

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