A good warm up starts with a brisk walk or jog for 5-10 minutes. Then it is important to incorporate dynamic stretches. Most people start with static stretches but those are not effective in a warm-up. Dynamic stretches help prepare your joints for the workout. These stretches take the joint through its full range of motion. It is important to do a proper warm-up before starting your run because it prepares the body for the warm-up. It helps prevent injury because the muscles and joints for the explosive, sudden movements.
Like a warm-up, a cool-down needs to start with an easy jog for 5-10 minutes. Follow by 5-10 minutes of full body stretching. This is where you can incorporate static stretches. After a long run, try putting your legs up on a wall for a few minutes. Cool downs gradually decrease your body temperature, returns heart rate to normal, and reduces breathing rates. This prevents pooling of blood in the legs, lactic acid buildup, and prepares your muscles for your next workout. Do not skip this step. Even if you cannot do a full cool down, try to do at least a few minutes. It will help your body and prevent injury.
Running controls the body in a straight plane. Make sure to keep the arms in this plane when swinging. This means avoid crossing the arms across the body when running. It helps minimize rotation in the core and keep your momentum going forward. Think of sliding your shoulders back to encourage proper arm swinging and keep your back upright. Keeping a straight back will prevent you from engaging your core more than necessary, avoiding excess energy usage. Be sure to lift your knees high and lean forward at the ankle instead of the hip or back. Be sure to land lightly on your foot. Do not slap the ground when you are running.
In running, the type of shoe you wear is important. Brand is not as important as fit. Choosing proper shoes can help to prevent injury. When choosing new shoes, the first thing you must do is take out the inner of the shoe. Make sure the inner fully captures your foot. While the inner is out, be sure to feel the inside of the shoe. Feel for any “hot spots” that may be irritating on the foot and toes like loose strings or fabric that is abrasive. Then, take the shoe with your hands on each end and compress it. A good shoe will bend at the ball of the foot when compressed. After performing this test, twist the shoe. It should not twist in the midfoot area. Symmetry in running shoes is important. Put the shoe on a level platform and use a ruler to ensure it is symmetric (make sure to do this on both shoes). Grab the heel of the shoe and apply pressure. Rock the shoe from side to side, being sure to look for excessive up and down movement. Size the shoe to the longest toe on your foot. This isn’t always the big toe so be sure to be aware of your longest toe.
Here are some common running injuries that physical therapist are trained to treat. We have treated many runners at races with injuries and without PT, some runners wouldn’t have been able to finish their race.
Check out these injuries:
- Runner's knee.This is a common overuse injury. Runner's knee has several different causes. It often happens when your kneecap is out of alignment.
- Stress fracture. This is a small crack in a bone that causes pain and discomfort. It typically affects runners in the shin and feet. It's often due to working too hard before your body gets used to a new activity.
- Shin splint. This is pain that happens in the front or inside of the lower leg along the shin bone (tibia). Shin splintsare common after changing your workout, such as running longer distances or increasing the number of days you run, too quickly. Pain wise, they can be hard to distinguish from a stress fracture of the shin, but the pain is usually more spread out along the bone.
- Achilles tendinopathy. Formerly called tendinitis, this is inflammationof the Achilles tendon. That's the large tendon that attaches the calf to the back of the heel.
- Muscle pull. This is a small tear in your muscle, also called a muscle strain. It's often caused by overstretching a muscle. If you pull a muscle, you may feel a popping sensation when the muscle tears.
- Ankle sprain.This is the accidental stretching or tearing of ligaments surrounding the ankle. It often happens when the foot twists or rolls inward.
- Plantar fascitis. An inflammationof the plantar fascia. That's the thick band of tissue in the bottom of the foot that extends from the heel to the toes. It usually presents with severe heel pain, especially with the first steps in the morning.
- IT (iliotibial) band syndrome. This syndrome causes pain on the outside of the knee. The IT band is a ligament that runs along the outside of the thigh, from the top of the hip to the outside of the knee.