How to prevent common marathon running injuries
Hit the ground running
Running is a good form of cardiovascular exercise that is relatively easy to pick up. It requires little gear and can be done with or without a training partner, anytime and anywhere. Although running requires less technical skills than other forms of exercise, running injuries are still common, especially amongst those training for a marathon.
When training for a marathon, runners are particularly vulnerable to injuries during the first three months of commencing training, when returning to running after an injury, and when running mileage or intensity increases.
Injuries caused by marathon preparation range from minor complaints such as muscle aches and tightness, to major injuries like muscle strains and stress fractures. As most of these running injuries are caused by recurring factors, they can be easily prevented.
The first step is identifying how you got the injury and how severe it is. The most common injuries sustained are usually in the mid-range, where the injury is not serious enough to require major intervention but should also not be ignored. These injuries include runner's knee, muscle strains and shin splints.
Also known as the Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS), runner's knee is a common injury caused by overuse. This happens when your kneecap is out of alignment. Runner's knee has several different causes and typically flares up during or after long runs, after extended periods of sitting or while running downhill or down the stairs. Over time, the cartilage in your kneecap begins to wear down.
Ways to deal with runner's knee include:
- Taking extra rest days from running.
- Reducing running mileage when you feel the pain.
- Strengthening the muscles that support the knee, especially your quadriceps, glutes and hips (focusing on balance and stability).
A muscle strain happens when you suffer from a small tear in your muscle, and usually happens when your muscles are overstretched, often due to lack of a pre-run warm up or stiff muscles. If you pull a muscle, you may experience a popping sensation when the muscle tears. The most common muscles strained are the hamstrings and the calves. If you think you have torn a muscle, you should immediately follow the R.I.C.E procedure: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
To prevent muscle strains:
Shin splits present as an aching pain and are the result of small tears in the muscles along the shinbone (tibia). Shin splints frequently occur when you suddenly change your workout, such as increasing your running mileage or increasing the running intensity too quickly. People with flat feet are more prone to shin splits — it might be worth investing in good footwear to provide high quality support.
Immediate treatments for shin splints include rest and stretching exercises. You shouldn't try to get back into exercise too quickly after shin splints — make a slow return to activity after allowing several weeks of rest to ensure good healing.
To prevent shin splints:
- Engage in strengthening exercises for the feet, ankles, calves and hips, all of which will help to support your shins.
Self-assess, but seek an expert opinion
Determining whether a running injury is minor or major is crucial to how the injury gets treated. It all boils down to how you assess and determine the injury — should you rest and recover for a short time or push on and endure the pain that could potentially put you at further risk?
Nonetheless, it is important that you see a doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above. Alternatively, you could also seek advice from a fitness expert who can help customise a training plan to help you train safely and correct any improper training techniques or imbalances in your body.
For more fitness tips, consult the personal trainers at Fitness First