Stretch, stretch, stretch!
This may sound obvious but it is surprising the number of patients we see presenting with a running injury who when asked if they regularly stretch respond with ‘err..no’. Stretching is absolutely essential to maintain flexibility and suppleness of the major running muscles. Persistent running without stretching will ultimately lead to chronic tension building up in the muscle fibres, which are then unable to function optimally causing muscle strains, cramps and joint dysfunction.
Aim to stretch each muscle group for at least 30 seconds after running. It is best to start gently and take the stretch slightly further with each exhalation. Interestingly a ‘normal’ stretch is not advisable before running as this has been shown to increase your chance of injury – more helpful is a ‘dynamic’ stretch e.g. 10 lunges on each leg to open out the hip flexors.
Invest in a sports massage pre-event
Not only is this enjoyable (or not – depending on your pain tolerance!) but research has shown that deep tissue techniques applied to muscles help encourage the production of mitochondria in the muscle cells, aiding healing and repair of the muscles and reducing pain. Massage techniques also encourage blood flow to poorly vascularised areas such as the Achilles tendon - a commonly injured area with running. Increased blood flow helps bring oxygen and nutrients, keeping tendons and ligaments healthy and improving recovery rate.
It is also worthwhile considering a sport massage post-event to help stretch over-worked muscles, reduce inflammation and encourage lymphatic drainage to remove toxic by-products that will have accumulated in the tissues.
Don’t neglect your core!
What does your core (the deep muscles of the spine, back and pelvis) have to do with running? Well, quite a lot actually. If you are running with a weak core you are likely to be running more weakly overall. The core muscles are low-fatiguing which explains why you don’t always get that post-workout ache after a Pilates class. However, this low-fatiguing trait means they are able to withstand a lot of shock, protecting your lower back and pelvic joints from the high impact nature of road-running. A strong core will also keep your torso and pelvis upright and stable. This encourages good running form and increases speed and endurance. Furthermore, strong core muscles also help keep you balanced, meaning you are less likely to take a tumble and damage peripheral joints.
The best way to improve your core muscles is to get yourself booked into a Pilates class - this way you will have a dedicated hour focusing on your deep abdominal, spinal and pelvic muscles with someone overseeing you are correctly activating them.
We all know that water is important. But it is especially important with high exertion exercise particularly in the summer months. Keeping well hydrated will help regulate your blood pressure keeping your heart functioning most efficiently and enhancing your running performance. It also helps keep joints lubricated and provides muscles with fluid preventing cramps and strains. However, no one wants to be running for miles with a stomach full of water sloshing around. Therefore, it is advisable to drink a good amount a few hours prior to a long run – e.g. half a litre 2 hours before a run, then 150-200ml just before you run. This will give your body enough time to eliminate any excess whilst preventing you becoming dehydrated. Following a run, fluid replacement is a particularly important - aim for another half litre in the first 30 minutes and be aware of any signs of dehydration such as passing dark urine, nausea and headaches.
Take notice of little ‘niggles’
Around 60% of runners are injured every year, particularly novice runners, with the majority of these injuries being reoccurrences of old ones. However, our bodies are quite incredible and will often give us plenty of warning signs before a significant injury takes place. Obviously this may not always be the case but it is worthwhile being aware of things that don’t seem quite right. This might be a nagging pain that starts in your knee after mile 4, a muscle that won’t seem to stretch as easily as others or stiffness in your joints for days after a long run. Prevention is far better than cure and many injuries are preventable and treatable if detected early. It is advisable to see a musculo-skeletal specialist such as an osteopath. We can diagnose potential injuries and keep muscles and joints supple and mobile as well as providing stretch and exercise programmes to limit damage and keep you running healthy.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07970133658.