How to Avoid Injury While Running

It occurs more than you realize. You decide to get more exercise and start a new running program, only to get sidelined a month later with a sore knee or hip. It can be a frustrating situation, especially when you felt like you were just reaching the peak of your running routine.

So how can you avoid injury while running? The good news is more research is being done to keep you in the running game. Orthopedic specialists, like myself, are actively working in sports therapy to help you stay healthy and strong.

What are common running injuries?

In my practice I see and treat a variety of sports injuries. Running can cause or contribute to several conditions including:

  • Runner’s Knee – Pain in the knee that can be mild or severe.
  • Pulled Hamstring – Marked by excessive tightness in the front of the knee and back of the leg.
  • IT Band (Iliotibial Band) Syndrome – Pain on the outside of the knee, especially while running.
  • Shin Splints – Pain in the front of the lower leg, can be mild or severe.
  • Ankle Sprain – Often caused by a mis-step while running, causing the ankle to roll and over-stress the tendons and muscles.
  • Piriformis Syndrome – Burning pain, usually in the buttocks or lower back.
  • Plantar Fasciitis – Typically presented as heel pain, but can radiate up the calf.
  • Achilles Tendonitis – Sharp pain in the calf which radiates down to the heel.
  • Stress Fracture – Acute pain when you begin running. Can be accompanied by swelling, tenderness and skin that feels warm. Often feels better when resting.

How to avoid common running injuries.

To avoid injury while running, I advise a 3-part approach. To remember more easily, think of the S.F.S approach: Shoes, Form, Strength.

  • Wear the right SHOE
  • Work on your FORM while running
  • Add STRENGTHENING exercises

Which shoe is best for running?

Think of your running shoe as a custom prescription. There is no “one Rx fits all” – and the reason I do not suggest one brand of shoe over another. Running shoes are personal and need to fit your specific foot, running style and even body type. Unfortunately, finding the right shoe for running is going to take a bit of trial and error. However, there are some basic principals all running shoes should have:

  • The shoe should fit your foot, neither too short nor too long.
  • Support is key. For instance, If you have a high arch, you need more arch support. Sprinters need a firmer support, compared to casual joggers who may prefer less structure in a shoe.
  • Be flexible. Keep an open mind when it comes to running shoes and don’t become “married” to one brand of shoe.
  • Plan on changing your shoes at least every 4-6 months. Most manufacturers will tell you your running shoe is good for about 300-500 miles.

How do I work on my running form to stay injury free?

Form is also important to maintain an injury free running routine. Some thing to work on that will improve your risk of injury are:

  • Maintain good posture – This can help center the body, eliminating stress on the knees and back.
  • Land lightly – Concentrating on “running lightly” will help minimize the stress of impact on the joints and bones.
  • Swing your arms efficiently – This helps keep your stride smooth while keeping and maintaining a “loose” relaxed body while running.
  • Lead with your hips – This causes your core muscles to work more efficiently, maintaining your center of balance.
  • Use your glutes – Using your glute muscles helps maintain balance and form, giving you a stronger and more centered run.
  • Watch your stride – Over-striding can cause additional stress on your back, knees and hips. It is better to shorten your stride than to overextend.

What strengthening exercises work best to prevent a running injury?

I know you’re tired of hearing it – but I’ll say it anyway…a good stretching routine before and after a run can go a long way to help prevent injury. Aside from stretching, you should concentrate on the muscles you need to complete injury free runs every time.  Some strengthening exercises to help prevent running injures are:

  • Wall press – Engages glutes and helps keep your body stable
  • Donkey kicks – Teaches the body to fire the gluteus muscles when running.
  • Forefoot balance on each leg – Increases strength to the entire leg.
  • Clam shells – Improves knee and pelvis stability.
  • Eccentric heel drop – Strengthens calf, Achilles and ankle.
  • Stability ball exercises – Strengthens core for better posture while running.
  • Jumping exercises – Increase body elasticity and help you to minimize impact when landing while running.

It is worth the time and effort to remaining injury free while running by paying attention to your body mechanics and strengthening your muscles. Don’t let it overwhelm you – work on one or two things with each run and break up the strengthening exercises between runs. You’ll soon find it second nature to maintain proper form while adding strength and stability.

For additional resources on avoiding injury while running, please contact the office of Benedict Nwachukwu, MD, orthopedic shoulder surgeon serving Manhattan, New York City and surrounding New York boroughs.   

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