How to avoid running injuries

Published on
March 5, 2022
Don’t let an injury derail your Brighton Marathon 10K progress – or cause you discomfort! You can reduce your risk by following our top tips on staying happy and healthy, whatever your goal...

How to avoid common running injuries

Don’t let an injury derail your progress – or cause you discomfort! You can reduce your risk by following our top tips on staying happy and healthy, whatever your goal.

Take it one step at a time

Many experts agree that training errors are the main cause of self-inflicted running injuries. You need time to adapt to any changes in your training regime and any increase in mileage. Sports podiatrist Stephen Pribut suggests that you avoid the ‘terrible toos’ – doing too much, too soon, too fast.

The 10 per cent rule – only increasing your mileage by 10 per cent each week – is popular, but that may be too much if you are injury-prone so increasing by just three or five per cent could be the answer for you.

Listen to your body

Sometimes old advice is the best advice, and ‘listen to your body’ is a great example of such tried-and-trusted guidance. “The biggest mistake people make is not listening to their body when they can feel an injury coming on,” says two-time Olympic marathon runner Liz Yelling. “Pushing on regardless ends up with lost time and enforced rest when immediate action could have got you back on track quicker.”

So try to nip injuries in the bud by resting when you feel a twinge. At the first sign of pain that worsens during a run, or causes you to change your gait, take three days off before trying to ease back into it. If it doesn’t clear up, seek professional help.

Get shoes that fit

As Eamonn Martin, the last British man to win the London Marathon, says, “Training shoes are the most important item of kit”. There are plenty to choose from these days, but it’s important to spend time working out which ones are best for you – check out ourHow to have happy feet feature for more on this. While no shoes are guaranteed to prevent problems, the right fit for you can certainly help, so make sure to go to a speciality running store for expert advice before buying.

Don’t test your limits too often

Perhaps unsurprisingly, research shows a correlation between injuries and competing in running events frequently. Physiotherapist Clint Verran warns against speed training and racing too often. “You might get five per cent faster, but your injury risk could climb by 25 per cent. That’s a bad risk-to-benefit ratio. Most runners can hit their goals without going harder than tempo pace,” he says. So relax, and make sure you’re following atraining plan that suits your ability and goals.

Stretch properly

You should always warm up before running, even if you’re eager to get going. Do some dynamic stretching (active movements where your joints and muscles go through a full range of motion) before your runs for a safe, effective warm-up. Save static stretching (holding an elongated muscle in a fixed position for 30 seconds) for afterwards.

Foam rolling tired muscles before or after runs can also help, as can icing and elevating any potential injury spots as soon as you feel them.

Reduce the impact of running

Impact forces can reach two to three times your body weight with each step you take when running so it’s no surprise that muscles and joints can become strained from theshock they’re absorbing.

Cross-training activities such as swimming, using a stationary bike, an elliptical cross-trainer or a rowing machine aregreat low-impact ways to improve your muscle balance and help you stay injury-free. However, if you have issues with runner’s knee, avoid the rowing machine, and if you’ve ever had shin splints or a stress fracture, you should probably steer clear of the cross-trainer.

If you’re injury-prone, avoid running on consecutive days. All runners are likely to benefit from at least one non-running day each week.

Seek help early

“The minute you feel a niggle, speak to a professional,” says Paul Hobrough, a chartered physiotherapist and author of Running Free of Injuries. “It makes no sense trying to run it off.”

Hobrough lists runner’s knee, patellofemoral pain syndrome and iliotibial band friction syndrome as the most common injuries that build up slowly over time. He says coming in for help at an early stage is far better than doing so once the injury has forced you to stop running.

Pay attention to your diet

“Paying attention to the nutrients you consume is key for minimising injury,” says Mhairi Keil, performance nutritionist at the English Institute of Sport. “Correct nutrition will enhance muscular performance, optimise recovery, and support your immune system. Risk of injury increases when muscles are tired, so pay attention to fuelling-up strategies and energy provision during long or intense runs.” Our Nutrition section has more info on what to eat to feel good in the run-up to your 10K.

If you do get injured, nutrition is also key to recovery. “It’s important to know what type of injury you have, as certain nutrients play a greater role depending on the tissue damaged,” says Keil. “For example, nutrients essential for bone repair include calcium, vitamin D, protein, magnesium and copper. Muscle injuries require high quality proteins and antioxidants, along with vitamin C and zinc for cell replication.

“Tendon damage can be more difficult to support nutritionally, however factors that can help to control or reduce excessive inflammation include the antioxidants found in green tea, omega 3s, polyphenols found in red kidney beans and berries, and resveratrol found in red grapes.”

Strengthen leg muscles

Strong leg muscles will help keep your body properly aligned while training. Biomechanist Dr Reed Ferber, head of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary, says it’s particularly important to strengthen your hip muscles: “Strengthening the hips is optimal for effective rehabilitation, as opposed to treating the area where the pain is located (eg your knee),”he says. “When you strengthen the hips you increase your leg stability all the way down to the ankle."

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