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Training for a marathon: 6 ways to prevent and treat injuries

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – April 22, 2013 -- With less than a week to go until the St. Jude Country Music Marathon, Nashville runners are almost ready for big event. It may be easy for new athletes to brush off stretching before and after their workouts, now that the end is in sight. But Randy Hill, personal trainer with Baptist Sports Medicine, warns runners that taking care of your body is more important than ever. 

 “Training for a marathon or a half marathon takes a toll on your muscles and joints. If you’re six or seven weeks into a 10 week training schedule, you’re at that point where you are pushing yourself harder and farther than ever before,” he said. “Do not neglect caring for your body after your runs. This includes ice to any sore body parts especially any joints. Post-run stretching and maintenance strengthening exercises need to be performed regularly. Strength and flexibility are two important components to staying injury free while running. These allow a quicker recovery from training runs which is vital as well.” 

Hips, knees, legs and feet are most susceptible to injury during a run, as they absorb much of the impact. Common injuries that distance runners experience are typically over-use in nature and include problems such as Achilles tendonitis, ITB syndrome, runners knee, hip bursitis, plantar fasciitis and even stress fractures in the lower leg and foot. Such injuries may require rest to recover and force the runner to do low impact form of exercise until the pain or soreness subsides.  If such injury occurs in the late phase of the training program, it might be difficult to run the race pain free. 

The best treatment is prevention which includes stretching and strengthening. The below stretches are just a few ways to stretch the designated areas, and the best time to stretch is once your body has warmed up. Begin your run and about six to seven minutes into your run, stop and spend a few minutes stretching your calves, hamstrings, glutes then continue with your run. If you have a particularly hard run, make sure you cool down afterwards and stretch as well to lessen the post run muscle soreness. Use of a foam roller is another way of helping to lessen post-run soreness. 

A few of Hill’s favorite stretches include the following: 

  • Toes Up Stretch: Stand with your heels approximately one foot away from a wall. Lean back so that your back, butt and shoulders are against the wall. Then, gently flex your toes toward your shins. This stretch strengthens your anterior tibialis, the front of your calves. 
  • Outer Calf Stretch: Start by sitting with both legs straight in front of you. Then, loop a rope around the ball of your foot. Grasping each end, pull on the rope and flex your foot and toes back toward your knee and ankle. This stretches the Gastrocnemius. 
  • Achilles Tendon: Sitting with one leg straight and one bent, bring your heel close to your butt. Keep your heel on the ground and pull your foot toward your body. This stretches the tendon that attaches your heel to your calf. 
  • Standing Quad: Stand with legs together, then bend your right leg, bringing your heel close to your butt. Hold your right foot with your right hand, pressing your foot into your hand so you feel the stretch in your quadriceps, the front of your thighs.  
  • Hip and Butt Stretch: Sit on the floor with your right leg bent so that your foot is close to your butt. Cross your left leg over your right. You will feel this stretch on your left side. 
  • IT Band Stretch: Lie on your back and bring one leg up and over across your body as far as possible while keeping your knee straight. Allow your leg to “drop” to the ground and hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds. Do at least 5 on each side. This will stretch the entire IT band. 

In addition to stretching, strengthening the muscles that assist you while running is important.  Some good basic hip and core exercises for runners to target less frequently used muscles include:

  • Half standing squat with good form - keep the knees behind the toes
  • Clamshells for the gluteus medius muscle; this muscle keeps our pelvis level when running and can lead to a number of lower leg problems if it is weak or fatigues easily. You can add resistance tubing to the clamshell exercise to make it more challenging
  • Good core exercises should include not only the flexor side of the body but also the extensor side of the body. The traditional “abdominal crunch” works the flexor side of the body. To work the extensor side, perform the prone “superman” or “bird-dog” as well as the prone “plank”.  These should not cause any back pain! 

Running is great form of exercise and has a lot of great benefits. It helps cardiovascular health, lessens stress, burns calories, and boost energy for the entire body. 

For more information about Baptist Sports Medicine, please visit www.baptistsportsmedicine.com.

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