We sat down one-on-one with Kathleen Leninger, DPT of NY Custom PT, one of NYC's best physical therapists for runners, to learn more about running injuries. Not just about our own running injuries, but about what's ailing new and seasoned runners everywhere! Here's what she had to say about the most common running injuries in newbies and seasoned runners, identifying these common injuries, and how to prevent them. Bonus? This is just Part 1! Read Parts 2 and Part 3 for more expert PT running advice...
OnlyAtoms: What are some of the most common running injuries you see in runners?
NY Custom PT: I would guess if you polled 10 runners if they ever had an injury, 90 of them would day yes. Of those 90 runners most of them would say ITB syndrome, “runner’s knee” or hamstring strain. Interestingly enough, all three of these injuries can be caused by hip weakness. Most runners don’t think they need to do strength training because they run but the truth is, you need to do strength training to support all your miles. Just because you have a care, doesn’t mean you can drive without gas and the more miles you drive, the more gas you need.
OA: How can these injuries be prevented?
NYCPT: Injury prevention is important whether you are new to running or have been running for a million years. All three of these injuries can be prevented in a few simple steps. Stretch, strength, and posture. By stretching, I don’t just mean 10 seconds on your hamstrings. Pick your favorite 30-minute show, get on the floor with a stretching strap and give your legs some love. Your muscle fibers need an opportunity to get blood flow in order to improve healing.
If you want to start a strengthening program look for exercises that target all three (yes there are three) glut muscles and core. Quad and hamstring exercises are more common to find so you may have to do some research (or come down to NY Custom Performance for some tips).
Posture is a little harder to figure out. Your stride may be adding extra stress on your knees if you don’t have the ability to control your hip posture. This goes back to the strengthening component. Even though you are thinking about your shopping list or zoned out to your music, try to pay attention to how much motion your hips have, do your knees touch as you run, are you landing with your foot far in front of you or right under your body.
OA: What are some of the warning signs that someone has one of those injuries?
NYCPT: A pain that is persistent for more than a few days is usually a good sign that something is going on. Runners or notorious for ignoring a pain and trying to “run through it”. It is much smarter to have a pain checked out right away. This can prevent you from having a more serious injury and potentially missing and entire training season.
OA: Do seasoned runners typically have different injuries from new runners?
NYCPT: Shin splints are more common in newer runners or runners that are coming back from a long break. Stress fractures are more common in long-time runners that have been over stressing their body for a long time. Many people ask about the difference in injuries for new runners vs. seasoned runners. The better question is really acute injury vs. chronic injury. New and old runners can get the same injuries. Usually, people that have been running for a long time will experience repetitive or acute exacerbations of chronic issues. Hamstring strains, ankle sprains, patella tendinitis are all common areas. If an injury was not treated correctly from the start, it can become a reoccurring injury over the years.
OA: What can I do to speed recovery after an injury while maintaining fitness?
NYCPT: A successful recovery time has to be the perfect balance of cross-training and rest. Too much rest can be just as damaging to an injury as over training. While injured, it is important to maintain strength of the injury as well as the accessory muscles. As long as you are listening to your body (honestly listening, not selectively listening).
It is also important that once you get back to running, you do not just start where you left off. Starting with a run-walk program is the safest way to get back on your feet. Doing a run-walk helps your body get used to being on your feet for a longer amount of time while being conservative with your running. The walk portion allows you time to check in with your body and see how your parts are feeling.
Whenever you are returning from an injury, it is a great time to evaluate your shoes. The normal suggestion is 300-500 miles is when you want to get new shoes but if you are injured or coming back off an injury, you should stick to the 300 range. Make sure you try on a variety of shoes and do not just pick the color you like. A good running store will want to see what you were running in before, and how you look running with each new shoe on.
OA: Speaking of running shoes, what’s the deal with running insoles? Will they help prevent foot injuries?
NYCPT: When you buy a new pair of running shoes, the second thing the sales person will ask you is if you have insoles. There are a lot of different insoles out there, and there are just as many theories on their use. There are many different reasons to have insoles in your shoes. The important thing to consider is if you are using insoles because your small foot muscles are weak or are you using insoles because you have a mechanical abnormality. If you are using insoles because your feet are painful from weakness, you are better off just working on the intrinsic strength of your feet. It is always important to go with what is comfortable. If you’re injured: general guidelines about altering training if you are sidelined (including the cross training question.) What can I do to speed recovery after an injury while maintaining fitness? How much cross-training can I do to decrease the margin of “catching up” I have to do in my training once I can run again?
OA: How should I adjust my training schedule if I run commute a few times per week?
NYCPT: People that run their commute often forget to incorporate it into their weekly mileage. This can be a source of an overuse injury. Running miles are running miles whether they are in the morning, at night, in the heat or in the snow. This is also true of they are miles for pleasure or for commuting. When creating a training plan (for a specific race or just to improve your running) you will want to consider how your running commute should work into your program. You will want to consider the distance you are running, how many stop lights will be breaking up your run, is your run hilly and is it a flat sidewalk or will you be running over obstacles to get to work.
At NY Custom PT & Performance Center, runners will achieve their running potential and strengthen their bodies. The team of specialized Physical Therapists and Running Specialists will spend one-on-one time to assess biomechanical alignment and fitness goals. They provide hands-on physical therapy care for higher standards and better results. Their staff of physical therapists ("Running Consultants") has the training and experience necessary to help improve running performance. NY Custom PT and Performance center offers Biomechanical CUSTOMFIT Running Analysis, massage, acupunture and more.