How To Avoid Common Running Injuries

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Author: Ben Fraser
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How to avoid common running injuries

Running and injury go hand in hand. A 2015 Yale University study found that on average half of recreational runners can expect to suffer injury while running. The most common injury hotspots are the knee, ankle, lower leg and foot.  

It can be difficult to pin down the actual cause of running injuries. There are a number of common causes that could contribute to sustained and recurring injury. 

  • Running technique
  • Type of running shoe
  • Avoiding strength training
  • An increase in mileage 

Prevention rather than treatment is the best form of protection against running injury. Rather than waiting until the injury arises, this article will look at three things you can do to lessen the chances of getting injured when running. 

A Strong Body

Developing core strength is an essential contributor to good everyday health and well-being. A strong core supports the spine and enhances our movement, balance and overall stability. Having a strong body can be a helpful factor in avoiding common running injuries.

From head to toe running is a mechanistic chain of movement. If that chain is disrupted or skewed, that’s when injury can occur.

One way of improving the strength of muscle groups in the body is to do some core stability exercises. We have outlined three exercises that most runners should be able to do. These can be performed in your front room as part of your weekly training schedule. 

Donkey Kick

In this exercise you will encourage the body to fire the glutes. The engagement of the glutes when running is essential because they provide strength and stability around your hips. In turn this propels you forward as you run.  

Start on all fours and place an object like a block on your back. Lift one leg back and bend the knee 90 degrees. During this movement you will need to keep the block steady. Push the heel up towards the ceiling. Aim for 10 reps minimum on each leg, steadily increasing the number of reps week on week. 

Wall Press

The wall press movement is a pelvis stabilisation exercise. This activates the gluteus medius; think about the bent-knee position in running – this type of exercise enhances the power behind this.  

Begin by standing with your right side next to a wall. Bend the right knee to a 90-degree angle and make contact with the wall. Avoid pressing the shoulder against the wall. With the knee in contact with the wall, hold for 20-30 seconds, then release and repeat. Aim for up to 3-sets on each side. 

Heel Drop

The calves and the Achilles tendon are some of the most injury prone muscles for runners. The heel drop is a core stability exercise to strengthen these muscles. You will benefit from this by fostering a more stable landing when running. 

Find an object you can stand on. Stand on one leg with your heels off the edge. Lift up onto the toes and slowly lower back down until heels are below the step. Repeat within a set of 10 reps. Aim to build this up to 3-sets of 15-reps. 

If you’re looking for more core stability exercises check-out this article by ace fitness.

Good Form

The two schools of thought on running form tend to be those that believe in the technical science, and those who hold faith in the natural movement of running – unique to each individual. What most will agree on is that certain components of form, such as good posture and proper stride, can help prevent injuries.

Run with Good Posture

The head is lifted directly over the shoulders; the torso is straightened; and the lower back not arched. 

Running with good posture is important because it stops your body weight from shifting back which will make you more likely to over-stride when running. Over-striding can disrupt your foot strike, putting unnecessary stress on the body. 

Efficient Arm Swing 

The rhythm of swinging your arms backwards and forwards is a natural body movement attached to our running form.

It’s important to think about our arm swing when running because if we let our shoulders rotate when running this causes our trunk to sway. A swaying midriff will destabilise the core, undoing all the hard work you’ve put in developing a strong body through core exercises.  

Land Softly 

Landing with softer feet is a really positive adjustment to make to our running form because it lessens the impact between body and ground. The softer strides we take the easier it is to adapt our stride pattern and land on the midfoot. 

Running with a midfoot strike is a fluid motion that rolls forward onto the toes. In comparison to heel striking and overpronation which are both more clunky and injury prone. 

Lead with your Hips

Leading with your hips when running is about initiating a forward motion from the central part of your body. Again we come back to the core strength we’ve been working on. Running with a conscious engagement of the core muscles, keeping your chest high and shoulders back. 

Engage the Glutes

The quickest way to engage the gluteus maximus is to tap your bottom for a couple of seconds when running. This will give your body a little reminder to contract and engage your glutes. 

Aside from the core stability the glutes and pelvis provide when running, this type of exercise in fostering a good running form is also one of awareness. Being better in tune with parts of your body is an effective way to build good running form. 

Check out our ‘4 Steps to Good Running Form’ article for more tips on running with good form. 

The Right Shoes

When it comes to picking running gear it can all become a little overwhelming, very quickly. For a movement that’s been with us since we can remember, there’s a lot of unnecessary items forced on us. 

When considering injury prevention one of the most important purchases to consider is the running shoe. Here are the questions you should be asking yourself when gauging what the right shoes are for you. 

Can a shoe support injury prevention?

Certainly, the point of contact of your foot to the ground is the biggest repetitive impact point on your body. The design of a running shoe can either increase or decrease the risk associated with this impact. Things like the cushioning will influence the mechanics of your legs which in turn impacts how your muscles, bones and joints are conditioned. 

The terrain you run on also dictates what a good running shoe will be for you. If we think of road and trail then we expect that the cushioning and grip will need to accommodate the force and stress of the impact. Road is notorious for repetitive stress over a flat surface, whereas trail running will unevenly distribute force over an uneven terrain. 

Matching your shoe to the terrain will ensure your body can better manage the force, reducing the risk of injury. Aim to rotate pairs for each terrain type. This will allow you to better manage the force inflicted on the body. 

How to tell if I’m picking the right shoes to run in?

Working with the “experts” is a good way of determining if you’re running in the right pair of shoes. At the same time we advise approaching a running shop with caution because they aren’t sport scientists proficient in the biomechanics of running, and they most likely want to score a sale.  

Many running shops provide a gait analysis that works out what shoe will best suit your foot’s shape and biomechanics. The adviser will record your running form on a treadmill,  providing feedback on your running form. A running shoe that compliments and supports your running form will be recommended. One that allows for a neutral pronation – a balanced level of movement is the winner! 

Even with the level of professionalism the gait analysis provides we still recommend you monitor how the running shoes feel. If you get aches and pains after a run in the new pair, it’s probably time to take them back and try another one. 

Should I switch to a minimal model for injury prevention?

There is no robust evidence to suggest that a minimal shoe will reduce injury. Runners have switched to a minimal model with differing results. Some have seen transformative effects while others have suffered as a result. A change like this will need to be rooted in your experience. 

Referring back to your foot strike is a good indication to gauge whether minimal shoes could be an effective switch for you. Runners that land lightly on the midfoot to forefoot may be able to switch without issues. Whereas heel strikers could take longer to adapt with the substantial level of support in the shoe. 

The need to consider the three key fundamentals of running injury prevention –  a strong body; a good form; and the right shoes – should be at the top of the list of every recreational runner, whether experienced or new to the sport. 

For more advice on how to train injury free for an event like a marathon checkout ‘Training for a marathon as a beginner’.

Author profile image of Ben Fraser
Ben Fraser

Ben is an experienced runner and fitness enthusiast who has been working in the sport and fitness industry for over 10 years. His passion for running began when he founded the Run Leeds project, while working for England Athletics. Ben is passionate about the sport of running and is always looking for ways to improve it. He is dedicated to helping runners of all ages and abilities to achieve their goals. He believes that running is one of the most enjoyable and accessible sports and loves to spread the joy of running.

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