by Aileen Flynn, champion triathlete and Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist in Musculoskeletal Care, Beacon Hospital
It’s that time of year. The evenings are longer, the sun is making a cameo and some of us get the urge to pick ourselves off the couch and run! Whatever your reason for running, there is no harm in keeping in mind some simple injury prevention strategies that can help ward off any niggles and keep your body in run-ready condition.
Firstly, a proper-fitting pair of runners is hugely important in providing good support for your feet. Running results in a lot of pressure directed not only towards our feet but up into our knees, hips, spine and shoulders. Having the correct footwear is an important first step. In an ideal world where we have developed strong, resilient feet like our ancestors who walked barefoot over rough terrain, we wouldn’t need to fork out on the latest high-tech running shoe. Realistically though, in the modern age, our feet are used to moving in a flat world and have had the support of shoes from an early age so we will continue to require this support as we run.
The main things I like to keep in mind in selecting the correct running shoe are:
- Have I felt comfortable and injury-free in the brand I currently use or have previously used? If the answer is yes, then I would stick to what has worked well in the past. There is no single running brand better than the next, in my opinion, and it really is all about finding the correct fit that works for you.
- If you have not felt comfortable in what you have run in previously or you are new to running, it would be worth purchasing your runners from a specialist running store. Often the advice and assistance you get in these stores is very helpful in ensuring you get your feet into the correct shoe. I always return to Amphibian King in Base2Race in Ballymount as I find that the staff there are both highly knowledgeable and will get you into the correct product for your needs.
There are three main foot types that I see in my work as a Chartered Physiotherapist – a neutral foot, a pronated foot and a supinated foot. Most people are neutral veering towards pronated. In that case, a neutral or anti-pronation shoe will work. If you have been told you have a supinated (high-arched) foot, I would recommend that you avoid an anti-pronation shoe as this will put you at risk of ankle injury. Likewise, if you have been prescribed orthotics to correct overpronation, you should only use your orthotics (insoles) in a neutral shoe. If you use anti-pronation insoles in a runner that has anti-pronation built into the structure of it you may be at risk of over correcting and causing more issues.
The second most important thing, in my experience, in aiming to remain injury free when running, is maintaining a strong core (abdominals and lower back) and strong glutes (hip and buttock muscles). These are some simple exercises that are helpful in keeping your core strong and hips “run fit”.
To strengthen your glutes, you can do a simple bridge exercise. Lie on your back, bend your knees, squeeze your buttocks and lift your hips up off the mat. Your shoulders, hips and knees should be in a diagonal line and you should not be arching your back. Keep your pelvis level and aim to hold this for 5-10 seconds. Repeat this 8-10 times as a starting guide. If your hamstrings (at the back of your thighs) start to cramp, just rest until the feeling subsides. This is often a sign that your glute muscles are weak – even more of a reason to kick start them into action.
Single leg glute bridge
If you wish to progress from the glute bridge you can add in a single leg lift. Keep your hips level and lift one leg off the mat, straighten the leg out but keep the knees in the same line. Hold for five seconds and see if you can switch and lift the opposite leg up. This is a great exercise to increase pelvic control when running particularly if you feel loose in the hips when you run.
Planks are a great all-over core exercise and help develop strength in your abdominals, back extensors and shoulders. When starting off with this exercise, see if you can hold the plank position for 10 seconds and repeat three times. You should aim to keep your back flat; if you feel it start to arch or your bottom rise up then stop, recover and try again.
The Standing Superman
This is a good exercise to focus on lower limb strength and control. It will challenge your glutes, hamstrings, quads, ankle stabilisers and your balance. Stand on one leg and allow that knee to bend slightly. Gently tilt the trunk forward aiming to keep your trunk parallel to the ground and reach the other leg out behind you. Reach your arms forward in a Y shape. Aim to hold for 3-5 seconds and see if you can do 5 in a row on each side.
Listening to any niggles in your body is also important in remaining injury free. A consultation with a Chartered Physiotherapist to examine and treat any problems that arise would be helpful. In the Beacon Hospital physiotherapy department, we have a team of highly-skilled Musculoskeletal Physiotherapists, who are experienced in treating a variety of sporting and running injuries. We also see a lot of runners needing prescription insoles/orthotics and use a gait scan analysis and 3D imaging to assess for these.
I run a lot in my triathlon training and I find that Pilates is a fantastic form of exercise to maintain strong, supple muscles. It has certainly been most helpful for me in my running endeavours. It’s a great form of core exercise and also incorporates dynamic stretches, which assist in maximising your body for running.
Running can bring so much joy and is something that, if done correctly, can be maintained well into later life. Sometimes when you take a break from running or are completely new to it, it is a hard and awkward slog getting the running feeling going. Don’t give up, hang in there and wait for that feeling…it will come and is worth it!
by Aileen Flynn
Aileen Flynn is a Clinical Specialist in Musculoskeletal Care in Beacon Hospital. She graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1999 with honours and received a Masters in Sports Physiotherapy from UCD in 2005. She has 18 years of experience working in a variety of areas ranging from sports rehab, orthopaedics, neurosurgical rehab, rheumatology, and acute accident and emergency caseloads. Aileen’s areas of interest are spinal pain and rehabilitation, shoulder rehabilitation, sports rehab and biomechanics. She has worked closely with elite sports teams throughout her years spent as the team physiotherapist to the UCD rugby 1st XV and her work in private practice with the Irish U19 Rugby team. She is a very progressive and dynamic physiotherapist.
She is a member of the Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine and a qualified Stott Pilates instructor.
Aileen has developed her skills in the area of acupuncture, dry needling, Pilates and biomechanical gait scan analysis which she incorporates into her patient care in Beacon Hospital. She is a keen Triathlete and has firsthand experience in the best methods of injury prevention and biomechanics of movement in swimming, cycling and running.
She is the 2014 National Middle Distance Triathlon Champion and competes internationally at Ironman and half ironman distance events where she has won her age group and competed on a par with the professionals of the sport.
Aileen is a regular guest lecturer in the UCD Physiotherapy Programmes.