Not everyone was born to run, but with the help of a PT, just about anyone should be able to enjoy the rewards of running and know how to prevent injuries. Running is very accessible because all one needs is a decent pair of running shoes, shorts and a shirt. However, that convenience may come with a price, paid in visits to the physician or physical therapist for the treatment of shin splints, knee pain, stress fractures or other injuries. At Oakdale PT & Fitness, we use the “EdURep” model of treating most foot and ankle problems. This stands for Education, Unloading, Reloading and Prevention.
The first step to preventing a problem in the first place is to recognize risk. Many people who take up running may not recognize that they are not ready for it biomechanically, and are therefore unaware of the stress their body will suffer every step of the way. This unfortunate double-edged sword is most commonly experienced by those who have weak muscles of their core, trunk, pelvis or hips. For example, females who’ve given birth in the past two to three years end up suffering IT band or low back pain due to weakness and instability in their abdominals and hips. The other group that commonly suffer are pre-adolescent or adolescent runners who are also weak and unstable at the hips and core, causing them to run incorrectly.
These and a host of other biomechanical factors can contribute to running injuries, including genu varus/valgus (knee malalignment), IT Band tightness (lack of hip flexibility), pes planus (flat footedness), or lumbar hyperlordosis (sway back due to lack of abdominal strength) just to name a few. The other common cause is poor running form or technique. Our physical therapists can identify and educate patients how their bodies or running mechanics may be working against them. They can also teach patients that the other preventable causes may be extrinsic, or due to factors outside of the body, such as improper footwear, hard running surfaces, or running on uneven terrain.
For injured runners, treating the damage by “unloading” those body parts is the first course of action. The physical therapist would also help you rebalance by strengthening weak muscles and stretching the tight ones. To help avoid inducing repetitive stresses, the PT would also unload the injury by varying your exercises for you to “train to run, and not run to train”. Once healed, “reloading” or return to running may occur, but patients must often be retrained in how to run. Otherwise, the risk of re-injury remains high. Although running may be the most effective form of cardiovascular exercise, varying the return to a full schedule should include lower impact activities such as biking, elliptical, or weight training.
I think we can all agree that it is much more enjoyable to prevent injuries than to treat them after they’ve already happened. Worse than this is the feeling of missing out on the fun running events, and not feeling fit and strong. This is why management of running injuries begins and ends with prevention. Visit Oakdale Physical Therapy & Fitness to establish an injury prevention program, so you can RUN STRONG into the new year and beyond!
- John K. Koniuto, PT, DPT, FMT-C, CEO