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Running Injuries

Running places an enormous amount of stress on the hips, knees, shins and feet. Therefore, without proper warm-up and stretching, running can cause painful and sometimes debilitating injuries that can keep runners from exercising for days, weeks, months or even permanently. Common runner’s injuries include iliotibial band syndrome (also known as Runner’s Knee), shin splints, plantar fasciitis and stress fractures. It is therefore imperative to keep the muscles and tissues surrounding these areas supple by stretching them when they are warm.

Iliotibial band syndrome (IT band syndrome) is caused when the iliotibial band, a thick band of tissue that runs down the outside of the leg from the hip to the shin, becomes irritated. The IT band provides stability for the outside of the knee joint. Therefore, runners experiencing IT band syndrome experience pain in the knee joint. Pain often worsens with increased motion and diminishes when the knee is stationary. Treatment for this syndrome can be costly, so prevent your knees and wallet from pain by warming up and then stretching. This will help make them flexible and more resistant to injury.

Shin splints cause pain along the shinbone, or tibia. Shin splints arise when the connective tissues attaching muscles to the shinbone weaken due to stress, which is often caused by running on hard pavement. Shin splints are very slow healing and can cause runners to miss months of valuable training. Stretching the calf muscles and anterior tibialis (shin muscles) increases litheness and can prevent shin splints.

Plantar fasciitis is caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue running from the heel to the toes on the bottom of each foot. Plantar fasciitis can result in excruciating pain along the arch of the foot, especially in the early morning. Plantar fasciitis can be prevented by using shoes that have proper arch support and stretching the feet before running. It can take months before patients with plantar fasciitis recover so don’t let this condition ruin your training!

Stress fractures are the most common sports injury. When an athlete such as a runner overuses a muscle group, the muscles become fatigued and are unable to absorb the shock of motions such as running, transferring the shock to the bone. The shock creates tiny cracks in the bone, called stress fractures. Stress fractures not only result because of overuse in the traditional sense, but because runners increase activity too quickly or run on unfamiliar surfaces too long. More than fifty percent of stress fractures occur in the lower leg and it can take up to eight weeks of no activity to heal. To help prevent stress fractures, warm up and then gently stretch.

Stretches for Runners

Top 6 Stretches (Calf, Quadriceps, IT Band, Hamstring, Groin, Glute)
Top 12 Stretches (Add to the above: Achilles, Plantar Fascia, Hip Flexor & Psoas, Piriformis, Tri & Shoulder, Lower Back)
Top 18 Stretches (Add to the above: Shin, Side Arch, Backward Stretch, Chest, Arms & Shoulder, Neck)

Performing the Stretches Correctly

Achilles Tendon – Stand straight with your hands against a wall with one leg slightly behind your other leg. Keeping your heels flat on the floor, slowly bend both knees. You should feel the stretch in the lower part of your leg. Repeat on the other side.

Arms & Shoulder – Bring your left arm across your body and hold it with your right arm, either above or below the elbow. Pull as close to chest as possible. Repeat on other side.

Backward Stretch – While standing straight, place the palms of your hands against the small of your back. Tighten your buttocks and core and bend backwards, holding your neck straight.

Calf – Stand facing a wall or other support, approximately one leg’s length away.  Lunge forward with right leg, extending arms to allow the wall to balance you. Feet should be about hip width apart, toes forward and left leg extended back with the knee straight and the foot flat on the floor. Push the left heal to the floor and move hips slightly forward. Repeat on the other side.

Chest – With right arm extended, place hand on a fixed structure at about shoulder height. Turn your body away from the right arm until gentle stretch occurs in the chest. Note that the upper chest stretch increases with the elbow lower and the lower chest stretch increases with the elbow higher. Repeat on the other side.

Gluteus Maximus – Stand facing the back of a park bench. Take your left foot and cross it over your right knee, creating a figure-four-type posture. Holding on to the bench with both hands, begin to ease your rear end down until it is parallel to the floor. It should feel like you are sitting in an imaginary chair. If possible, release the left hand from the bench and press your left elbow down on your left knee for a deeper stretch. Release your elbow from your knee, put both hands on the bench, and slowly return to standing position. Release your crossed foot to the floor. Repeat on the other side.

Groin – Stand with your feet as far apart as possible, toes pointing forward. Gradually shift all your weight to your left leg by bending your left knee. Your right leg stays straight. You can increase the starting distance between your feet for a greater stretch. Repeat on the other side.

Hamstring – Stand with your left foot on a park bench or low wall, no higher than hip height, with the middle of your shoe on the edge. Lock your left leg straight and bend your right leg slightly. Gently bend forward from the hip bringing your head towards the leg until you feel a gentle stretch in the left hamstring. Repeat on the other side.

Hip Flexor & Psoas – Stand facing a bench or elevated platform, approximately one leg’s length away. Place right foot on bench or platform. Slowly lunge forward by bending right leg. With chest high, straighten hip of left leg by pushing hips forward. Keep torso upright, close to vertical and hips square to the wall. Repeat on the other side.

IT Band – Standing near a wall for support, cross your right leg in front of your left leg. Extend your left arm overhead and reach to your right side. Put your right hand on your hip and push slightly to move your hips to the left until you feel a gentle stretch along the left side of your torso, hip, upper thigh and knee. Repeat on the other side.

Lower Back – With your feet shoulder width apart and pointed outwards to about a 15 degree angle and your heels on the ground, bend your knees and squat. Then lean slightly forward and try to lower the backside as close to the heels as possible until you feel a gentle stretch in the lower back.

Neck – Bend your head forward and slightly to the right. With your right hand, gently pull your head downward. You’ll feel a nice, easy stretch along the back left side of your neck. Repeat on other side.

Piriformis – Using a wall or bench for support, stand on your left leg, cross your right leg over and rest it just above your left knee creating a figure-four-type posture. Keeping your back very straight, do a one legged squat until you feel a gentile stretch of the piriformis muscle on the left side. Repeat on the other side.

Plantar fascia – Squat down with your left foot in front of your right foot and your hands on the ground for balance. Keeping your toes on the ground and arching your right foot, slowly move your body weight forward until you feel a stretch to the arch of the right foot. Repeat on the other side.

Quadriceps – Near a wall or bench, stand with your feet hip width apart. Bend your left knee and grasp the top of your left foot with your left hand. Bring your heel as close as possible to the left side of your buttocks, feeling a gentle stretch of the quad and shin. Keep your back straight, your left knee vertically in alignment with your left hip and horizontally in alignment with your right knee. Repeat on the other side.

Shin – Stand with the toes of your left foot on the floor on the outside of your right foot. Bend the right leg to push your ankle towards the ground until you feel a gentle stretch. Repeat on the other side.

Side Arch – Stand with feet just slightly apart. Raise your left arm, making a line from your left foot to the fingertips. Let your right arm extend down the right side of the body as you bend your upper body to the right feeling a gentle stretch along your left side. Bring the body back to the original position and repeat on the other side.

Triceps & Shoulder – Extend your right arm straight up in the air. Bend arm at the elbow, pointing the elbow towards the sky and letting the forearm fall behind your back. Take your left hand and grab your right elbow.  Pull the elbow behind your head feeling a gentle stretch. Repeat on the other side.

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