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by Dr. Farnaz Najm
Did you know? Up to 70% of recreational and competitive runners sustain overuse injuries in the first 12 months…but it doesn’t have to be that way. Running is a high load and repetitive activity and you need to build up tendon and tissue tolerance gradually.
Whether it is the springtime or you signed up for a race, you need to build up your tissue tolerance gradually to avoid overuse injuries. Overuse injuries can occur as a result of lack of strength, inflexibility, inappropriate footwear and/or surfaces.
The most common overuse injuries happen in your hips, glutes, legs, ankle, and feet…
Activate your hip extensors: Hip extension occurs when the long bone in your thigh (femur) moves behind your torso. The role of hips is essential in running. When you have a restriction in your hips, your body will be forced to compensate for that lack of movement in some other way, and that typically results in overextending your lower back or using your hamstrings to push your body forward.
Your daily life – including hours of sitting at your desks, driving or lounging – put your hips in flexion and create inflexibilities, weaknesses and poor balance. Reclaim your hip extensors!
To have fully functional hips you require not only mobility, but also strong, active glutes. Glutes are the most powerful and efficient movers for running. You have 3 glute muscles: gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. All of them need to be uninhibited, strong and efficient. Otherwise your posture falls apart, and other muscles compensate until they too fail, which leads to overused hamstrings, lower back and pelvic pain.
Lack of mobility in your calf muscles (gastrocnemius-soleus complex or calf) and overusing muscles on front of shins (anterior tibialis muscles) will cause what’s called shin splints, which are pains along the edges of your shinbones. There are two types of shin splints; anterior (front) shin splints and posterior (back) shin splints and are both results of muscle imbalance between your calf muscles and shin muscles.
Proper flexion of your foot toward your shin (ankle dorsiflexion) is important in order to have a safe platform to land on and to avoid rolling your ankles. It also allows you to have your foot land directly under your hip during each stride for the most effective push-offs. Lack of proper ankle dorsiflexion will put extra work on your calf muscles which may lead to Achilles tendonitis. This is very common in runners, and severity of pain varies from irritation at the back of your heels to pain and swelling along your Achilles tendons.
Extension of your toes, especially your big toes, is important for normal push-offs. If you have lack of mobility in your toes, the entire mechanics of the feet will change and you will be misusing muscles and ligaments in your feet and ankles to compensate for the rigidity of your toes and therefore making them tight and overactive.
Plantar fascia (a thick connective tissue that runs from the heel bone toward the base of your toes and is one of the structures that supports the arch of your feet) will be made tight and restricted. This is called plantar fasciitis. This will lead to serious issues with running efficiency, and to pain and injuries.