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How to avoid common running injuries

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Your running shoes and how you train – distance, speed, frequency and duration – have a lot do with remaining injury free. Physiotherapist Brad McIntosh tells us what to look out for and gives us his top tips on how to avoid common running injuries.

Are you wearing the right running shoes?

With all the marketing hype around, you might be forgiven for thinking that footwear is the key to preventing running injuries. Especially now, with most runners at least aware of the “barefoot” craze, it’s becoming harder to know what the right shoe is.

The “old” advice around finding the right shoe for a particular foot-type is slowly being tested, and the trend is towards a more lightweight, minimalistic running shoe.
This phenomenon is primarily due to Chris McDougall’s book ‘Born to Run’, that I’m sure everyone has read or at least knows the context, and to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine

The study, which investigated the effect of three different levels of footwear stability on pain outcomes in runners, showed that matching the “correct” shoe to a foot type had no effect on injury rates in a group of 81 female runners. In fact, those that received the “correct” shoe were slightly more likely to get injured.

I think it’s important not to take this conclusion too far, as this was a relatively small study and had some major limitations. It does, however, give some credence to the view that we need to reassess the way we professionals in sports medicine approach running footwear.

No doubt the science will continue to evolve with more studies popping up to corroborate these findings, as this is a big shift in thinking around footwear and running.

How to pick the right running shoes

While a bit un-scientific, selecting a shoe based on comfort is probably our best bet at present. 

One study, published in Medicine in Science and Sport, on 206 military personnel, who were allowed to select a foot insert based on their feelings of comfort, showed a significant reduction in injury rates, even though the inserts often had no association with their “foot type” or what would normally have been considered the appropriate insert for their foot. 

If you have a specific injury, or history of injury, affecting your foot then a consultation with a good physiotherapist or sports podiatrist is probably appropriate.

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Are you making mistakes when you train?

Anyway, regardless of all this hype and innuendo, a far more important issue than footwear is how you manipulate your training variables. 

Some studies have suggested that up to 80% of overuse running injuries are attributable to training errors.

How you build your training up—including mileage, terrain, speed, and frequency—is the most important single consideration in avoiding a running injury. 

Regardless of what shoes you wear, how you run, how tight your hamstrings are or how poor your core control, the body needs to adapt to new loads

If you haven’t run much before, or you’re ramping up in preparation for an event, how you choose to do this will be the major factor in determining success or injury.

How to avoid running injuries

  • Plan your event preparation, including the training variables of mileage, terrain, speed, frequency and, of course, the rate of increase in these variables. Discuss your plan with a sports medicine professional as well as a coach
  • If you’re unsure on the footwear issue, discuss it with a professional. At present, research evidence suggests that you select a shoe that is comfortable for you, rather than one that has been “prescribed”. The way I address this is to give you a few options and suggest you go for a run around the store and select the one that feels the most comfortable
  • Have a good biomechanical assessment – it’s a small investment in the overall scheme of things and will allow you to deal with pre-existing issues and risks and help to prevent further problems
~This article first appeared on Sydney Physio Solutions.~

Sydney Physio Solutions was established in 2007 with the aim to provide a high quality service in injury rehabilitation using state-of-the art technology in an innovative environment.

Their team of highly qualified and caring physios, led by founder and Managing Director Brad McIntosh, can do a running analysis and provide advice & assessment for the very best outcome.

Brad and the team are also our injury prevention experts for the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival so send them your questions at Ask a Physio and they’ll help you achieve your goals and get you over the finish line!