A Letter From Your Physical Therapist
I know it has been quite some time since you and I last spoke. Perhaps it was even as far back as when you ran track and field in high school, or the last time you played a sport in college. There are a few things I want to remind you about, as a runner.
First, you must rest. Your body needs the periods of rest after routine workouts to recover. I know this is hard for you. I know that you have running goals to meet, and you have a busy lifestyle; however, a day of rest will help you more than you can imagine.
What does a proper day of recovery look like, you might be asking? Well, it starts with sleep. Your body needs time to repair tissue and your muscles need down-time to become stronger. You also should pay attention to what you are eating. Stay away from fried foods and high-sugar foods. Remember to eat complex carbs and protein. And, most importantly, hydrate with at least 8 cups of water per day–even on recovery days.
Second, you need to pay attention to your weekly running mileage. A common mistake is for runners to add too much mileage, too fast. This causes strain on your body and leads to many types of running-related injuries. Mileage should increase by no more than 10% each week. For example, if you ran 5 miles this week, then next week you should run no more than 5.5 miles.
Also, have you checked your running sneakers lately? There are many sneakers on the market today–from overly-padded to minimalist shoes. Here’s what you should know about running shoes: They need to allow the foot to strike the ground to allow for the natural movement of the foot. Sneakers with too much padding or rigid sneakers don’t allow the foot to pronate, the foot’s natural shock absorber,and there is too much impact on the foot, ankle and shins; and this can lead tendonitis, shin splints and even stress fractures. And, sneakers with no padding at all (i.e. “barefoot shoes”) don’t offer protection on the pavement and may not be appropriate for a runner who over-pronates (flat footed) and does need some support.
So, what’s a runner to do?
A great way to make sure you are taking care of all aspects of your foot is to run wearing shoes that fit appropriately, but then take off your shoes and do strides and foot stretching and strengthening exercises on the grass or other soft surface. The barefoot component will help strengthen the metatarsals, tendons, and ligaments in the feet.
Have you been neglecting strength training and core work? It’s important to incorporate strength training exercises into your workout plan. Focus on the gluteal and quadriceps muscles. This should happen 2-3 times per week. Be sure that you are also working on your core–as the core is important to your overall running form.
It’s also important that you spend time stretching your muscles. You will want to pay extra attention to the IT band, calves, quads, and hamstrings. Stretching loosens and lengthens the muscle fibers. Many stretching videos and resources can be found online, but start here.
The best piece of advice I can give you is to listen to your body. Your body sends you messages about what it needs. If you have an ache or pain, take a day off and ice the affected area. The human body is equipped with an amazing “signal and alert system”, if only we would listen to it more.
If you have followed all of this advice, and you are still experiencing pain after 7-10 days, it is time to see your physical therapist. Your therapist can perform a complete running analysis using not only their trained eye but slo-motion video to see if gait abnormalities exist. This information can also be used to improve your running pattern and running efficiency. You may be surprised at the things you learn about your biomechanics and form!
Your physical therapist