How to recover from (and/or prevent) common running injuries.
If you suffer an injury, your doctor may recommend cutting back on mileage or even taking a complete break from running. While downtime gives you a chance to mend, rest shouldn’t be the only part of your recovery plan. “If injured runners don’t address muscle weaknesses and faulty mechanics, they’re almost guaranteed to re-injure,” says Colleen Brough, assistant professor at Columbia University’s physical therapy program. Here, running injury specialists outline how to put common injuries to rest – for good. Follow the “active recovery” advice as you ease in and build up your mileage. When you’re back at full operating speed, add the “relapse prevention” tip to stay healthy. And pair these exercises with properly applied kinesio tape.
Active Recovery: When running, increase the width of your steps by a few centimetres to reduce the friction between the IT band and thighbone, says Dr Reed Ferber, director of the Running Injury Clinic in Calgary, Canada.
Relapse Prevention: Side planks strengthen the muscles on the outside of the hips.
Runner Beware: Skip the hills. On inclines, the knee stays bent longer, which increases tension in the IT band, Ferber says. Avoid running circles in the same direction on a track and roads with high cambers.
Active Recovery: Exercises such as planks, clamshells, and bridges strengthen weak glutes and hips, common culprits of hamstring strains. It may be helpful to work on agility. In a university of Wisconsin study, runners with acute hamstring strains who completed a rehab plan that included agility work recovered faster and were less likely to be re-injured than those who didn’t work on their agility.
Relapse Prevention: Do bridge walkouts (with hips raised, walk your feet out, alternating right and left steps; the straighter the legs, the harder it is). This strengthens the hamstring as it’s lengthening, which is consistent with the action of the muscle during running.
Runner Beware: Avoid speedwork until your pain is completely gone. “The hamstring most commonly gets injured when the muscle is quickly lengthened, as it is when sprinting,” Brough says.
MEDIAL TIBIAL STRESS SYNDROME (SHIN SPLINTS)
Active Recovery: Increase the number of steps you take per minute by five to 10 per cent. Count your steps, do the math, then search Spotify for, say, “180 beats per minute” for songs to listen to while running. Riding a stationary bike can help, too. “Being on an indoor bike where you don’t have to worry about traffic can help you get a feel for a high cadence, which you can carry over to running,” Brough says. “On the bike, focus on activating the transversus abdominis of the abdominals and the gluteus maximus, which help stabilise the pelvis and improve running mechanics.”
Relapse Prevention: Runners who land with an exaggerated heel strike are most likely to suffer from shin splints. Increasing your running cadence will lead to a shorter stride length.
Runner Beware: “If you return to running too quickly, this injury can quickly turn into a stress fracture,” Brough says. Follow each running day with two rest or cross-training days.
PATELLO-FEMORAL PAIN SYNDROME (RUNNER’S KNEE)
Active Recovery: “Hip and core strength is essential to eliminating knee pain,” says Ferber, whose research on the topic was recently published in the Journal of Athletic Training. Three times a week, do three sets of 10 reps of each of these exercises: standing hip abduction, standing hip external rotation, and standing hip internal rotation.
Relapse Prevention: Walk backward uphill or on a treadmill set to five per cent incline (hold the handrails to avoid tripping). This isolates the muscles on the front of your thighs that help keep the kneecap in proper alignment. “While targeting the hips is key, research still tells us that quad strengthening is an important part of runner’s knee recovery,” Ferber says.
Runner Beware: While you’re in pain, avoid running downhill. “Pounding down hills increases the force on the knee joint and slows recovery,” he says.
Active Recovery: Use over-the-counter orthotics in your shoes as you rebuild mileage. “Most athletes I’ve treated with plantar fasciitis have recovered more quickly with orthotics,” says Ferber. Once the pain has subsided, remove the inserts. Use a foam roller before running to loosen calves and Achilles tendons. Roll the injured foot over a frozen water bottle for one minute four to six times a day to reduce swelling.
Relapse Prevention: Strengthen the calf muscles that support the tissue on the bottom of the foot with heel raises. Work up to three sets of 20 reps four days a week. “Always do this exercise after a run or workout,” Ferber says. “Doing it before will put increased strain on the plantar fascia.”
Runner Beware: Don’t walk around barefoot, which can further strain injured tissue, Ferber says. And throughout the day, opt for supportive shoes over flip-flops or high heels.