When it comes to sports injuries, prevention is far better than months of rehabilitation. Many people think that running is a low-impact sport that requires few skills to master- after all, everyone knows how to run. You just need to log in the time on the road and you’ll end up winning races. Unfortunately, most people don’t really know how to run correctly, and they get injured. An astonishing 50% of runners end up injured each year.
It’s Not the Shoes
A common myth in the running population is that avoiding injuries is all about correct shoe choice. Conventional wisdom urges runners to get professionally fitted with shoes to avoid injuries. However, several studies have shown that getting professionally fitted for shoes actually increases injury rates versus runners simply selecting shoes that “feel good.” For example, shoes selected by fitters that are designed to “correct” over-pronation significantly increase the rate of injury compared to runners who just select shoes they like.
The idea that it’s all in the shoe first lead to the development of heavily padded shoes and motion-controlling shoes. When these types of shoes didn’t manage to prevent injuries, the barefoot, or minimalistic, shoe emerged. Many studies have demonstrated that barefoot runners experience far less shock from impact with the ground, and move differently, than runners wearing shoes. However, as the populace has taken up minimalistic type shoes, the rate of running injuries hasn’t dropped.
Learn to Run
The bottom line seems to be that most people don’t really know how to run. They don’t know how to move their body in a biomechanically correct, balanced way. Many runners have weak core muscles that lead to poor posture when running, which leads to excessive wear and tear on the body. For example, one of the most common running injures, runner’s knee, seems to be caused by weak hip muscles that cause the pelvis to move too much during each stride, resulting in excessive stress on the knees.
Perhaps the best way to prevent runner’s injuries is to get a gait analysis and evaluation from a sports physical therapist before beginning to run. These analyses usually require the subject to run on a treadmill while being videotaped. The trained therapist can detect biomechanical problems with the subject’s stride, and can diagnose possible causes for the problems and come up with solutions. For example, most people who have grown up wearing stiff, padded shoes run with a too-long stride and hit the ground hard with their heel, a style of running that can cause all kinds of injuries. The therapist can explain how to run with a correct, shorter stride and a mid- to- front foot ground strike. Weak core muscles that cause excessive pelvis and upper body motion can be detected during this evaluation, and special exercises to strengthen the muscles can be prescribed.
In addition to learning how to run correctly, cross-training can significantly reduce running injuries. Running well requires significant strength, flexibility, and balance, none of which can be developed by just running. Hitting the weight room, attending Pilates classes, and performing special balance exercises will improve running and reduce the injury risk far more than just plugging on down the road. Learning to run well requires much more than just running.
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