Spring has come, and so has the running season! Do you do any preparation before going out for a run? How do you usually warm-up? What about stretching? How important is that for the prevention of injuries? To help you on your fitness journey, here are some thoughts about running warm-ups, stretching, shoe selection and strategies to prevent injury.
Stretching before running
Scientifically, there has been few evidence that suggests static-stretching before an activity actually decreases injury, with most studies that do show benefits include at least one other effective co-intervention, such as warm-ups or leg-guards. In fact, stretching has been shown to do damage to muscles at the cytoskeletal level, in addition to increasing one’s tolerance to pain. Would it be a good idea to immediately load a muscle that has been damaged and which has decreased pain sensitivity?
Wait, so is it bad to stretch? As physios, we often tell patients to do various stretches if a muscle is tight enough to alter one’s biomechanics while moving. Stretching is a good way to increase a muscle’s length and improve one’s biomechanics of movement (which will prevent injuries!), but it should not be done immediately before exercise. It is best to stretch on “off” days when one has sufficient time to recover after an intense stretching session.
Warming up is usually defined as a light activity to
- Increase one’s heart rate and circulation,
- Lightly load the muscles to prepare them for the stress of physical activity, and
- Increase the temperature of the tissues to increase compliance.
There are some who believe increased compliance of tissue can help prevent injuries. Similar to stretching, there is no robust evidence to support warm-ups helping prevent injuries. Sometimes, overdoing a warm-up (similar to overstretching) can potentially do more harm than good.
A general good pointer to warm-ups is that it should be pain-free, should increase your heart-rate (guidelines suggest 50-60% of your maximum heart rate) and should target muscles you are going to use during the activity.
A common myth of running shoes is that their cushioning prevents running injuries by reducing the shocks to one’s body. However, scientific evidence has found that the body would adapt its impact-absorbing behaviour (to absorb more or less shocks) based on the hardness of the shoe. Thus the more cushioning one has, the less the body tries to lessen the impact of the ground on the foot/body. This is one of the reasoning behind the recent rise of the “minimalistic” shoes; it trains the body to better absorb shocks, without over-reliance on a shoe’s cushioning effects.
What Causes Running Injuries?
Most running injuries are caused by a combination of excessive stress on the tissues and bad biomechanics. Many injuries happen after a sudden change in training – getting back to running after a long time of rest, or suddenly increasing one’s training volume/intensity. Time away from being active can lead to muscle imbalances as well as a decreased ability for the muscle to absorb shocks, due to decreased strength.
Muscle imbalances in strength and flexibility cause changes in the body’s biomechanics that may not be apparent in day to day activity; however they are magnified when one starts to run or when one changes one’s running intensity. These eventually put excessive loading on certain parts of the body – be it a tendon, a ligament, or the cartilages of your knee; injuries happen once the tissue can no longer support the excessive loading.
Thus, it is important when getting back into running to follow a graded program, in addition to training and correcting the body’s muscle imbalances in flexibility and strength.
Our Vancouver physiotherapist can help identify your muscle imbalances and problem areas in your running cycle. You can contact us from our website www.vansportsphysio.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments on preventing running injuries!