Prehab for Running

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By Vivian Law BPHE, Registered Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture 

Spring is here so many of us are eager to enjoy the warmer weather and perhaps pick up running again. Running outdoors is an awesome activity that many enjoy, which also comes with an increasing incidence of injury as we age. I love running and received an injury before the age of 20, which limits my running to shorter distances. How do we minimize the risk of injury with running? Some will suggest not running at all, which is the case when a person’s body no longer allows the process with an injury. Another option is to run within your current limits and to run smarter. 

I have needed to rehabilitate myself from injury a few times and it is just fine to combine running and walking. In fact, I completed my first and only 10km race a couple years ago in under an hour by walking a minute every 10 minutes I ran. If you are new to running or starting up again, running 1 minute and walking 1 minute is a great place to start. It is better to run a little for a long time, meaning being able to run until older age than run a lot and break down. If it is not possible for you to run for long, consider running shorter distances faster, such as sprints. I’m a bit faster than a giant tortoise, but I practice running 100m, 200m and 400m sprints, with the 400m being my arch nemesis. An additional benefit of sprints is our fast twitch muscle fibres are lost first with aging, so doing some hard work such as sprints, helps us maintain our muscles and abilities longer.

Running is a complex biomechanical process that requires a significant amount of weight bearing load and shock absorption. As we age, our bodies ‘wear out’ in different spots and become more susceptible to injury due to the way our body is used. We can prevent and manage aches, pains and injuries by becoming more aware of how our body is being used and areas where we can improve our strength, stability and mobility. 

Here are some tips on how to better prepare yourself for your next run. You may be accustomed to just lacing up and going, however, should you have any potential injury sites or any concerns, you will benefit greatly from preparing yourself for the run, by doing some prehabilitation work that is specific to your needs. How do you know what prehab is needed? Working with a trainer, coach, or clinic professional such as yours truly, can help you better assess your situation and how you can improve. Here are some tips so you can get started on running smarter right away: 

-Be sure you have optimal range of motion in your toes, especially the big toe joint. Having your toes move easily improves the mechanics of your feet as shock absorbers 

-Work on the mobility of your ankles, especially in terms of dorsiflexion, so this typically means stretching your calves. There are very few people who are particularly mobile this way and mobility in the ankle joint does not naturally improve with age

-Assess and improve the mobility of your hips, especially in relation with being able to extend your hip backwards. Many of us are lacking in this range from our time sitting, so even a few standing hip extensions just before your run can help activate the muscles needed for improved hip extension. 

-Strengthen your core, which includes the hips. Core exercise is hugely beneficial to improving your posture and stability through your pelvis, which contributes to force being efficiently coordinated and distributed through your muscles and joints. 

-Improve your ability squat, so you are able to squat with your feet flat, keep a long spine and get your butt close to the ground. This is the basic test of mobility in the ankles, knees and hips- something that we can always work at improving. The more we can squat as smoothly as an Olympic weightlifter with no weight for us regular humans, the better our hips, knees and ankles are functioning.

-Work on your breathing. Being able to breathe through your nose most of the time, including while running is beneficial to your general health, as your nose filters and warms the air before it enters your lungs. Of course, once you reach a certain intensity, breathing through both the nose and mouth become a necessity. The goal is to breathe through your nose for as high an intensity as possible for you. Practicing a more ideal breathing pattern also helps your posture, which indirectly helps with the load bearing of running. Try this stretch on a regular basis before and/or after a run to encourage deep diaphragmatic breathing: http://www.vivianlaw.ca/relax-and-improve-your-posture/

There are 6 areas mentioned above to consider, so choose 1-3 areas where you know you could improve and pick a quick exercise to do before a run. It could be a bit of stretching, mobility work or a strength exercise. For example, I use a mini acu ball and roll through my feet, do calf raises and stretch my calves before I go for a run, as my ankles are a limiting factor for me. Every runner will have unique needs. If you could use some guidance, we are always here to support you at the Adelaide Health Clinic, 100 King St W, First Canadian Place, Toronto  

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