BHealthy Blog

A Physical Therapist’s Guide to Injury Prevention for Runners

By Sarah Simmons, PT, DPT, Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist at Baptist Therapy Center- Sherwood.

Runners are a different breed of athlete. But like all athletes, injury prevention is key to ensuring that your running career doesn’t come to a screeching halt. I am a physical therapist and a movement expert, and I once considered myself a runner. Unfortunately, like most runners, I have had my fair share of aches and pains. I didn’t adequately prepare, so injuries became a recurring problem until I stopped running. I want to turn my failure into your success and offer some guidelines to help prevent aches and pains from ending your running career. My goal is to provide you with basic training information along with my expertise and summarize it for you here:

Tip #1: Proper Footwear

You will find this tip on nearly every list of preventive techniques for runners. The best type of running shoe for you depends on your body structure. If you are new to running or struggling to find a good running shoe, you should visit a running shoe store. Professionals at running shoe stores are available to help you choose a shoe based on the structure of your foot and lower extremities and your specific running goals. Most experts agree that once you’ve put 300 to 500 miles on your running shoes, it is time to purchase a new pair. 

Tip #2: Pace Yourself

Eighty percent of running injuries are caused by increasing your running mileage too quickly. Your joints need time to adjust adequately to this new added stress. Generally, runners should gradually increase their running time or miles by no more than 10% weekly. 

Tip #3: Limit Hard Surface/Downhill Running

As much as most of us enjoy a scenic run in the neighborhood or down by the river, it is essential to run on soft, flat surfaces whenever possible to avoid excessive joint stress from the hard impact on asphalt or concrete. Treadmill training is an excellent alternative to running on the street or sidewalk. Downhill running is also stressful to the joints over time and should be done in moderation.

Tip#4: Cross Training

It is important to develop strong tissues and endurance to minimize the stress on your joints. For example, many people struggle to increase their running distance or speed because they are not doing any conditioning other than running. Cross-training can involve many activities, including swimming or biking, but the most important is strength training. Developing muscular strength and endurance through strength training can reduce stress on the joints and soft tissues, allowing your body to withstand increased distances and speeds with reduced risk of injury. Regular stretching is also vital to maintain good elastic tissue for injury prevention.

Tip #5: Adequate Rest Between Training

No matter what athletic activity you’re participating in, it is essential to achieve adequate rest to allow your body to heal between workouts or events. Running can cause microscopic muscle tears and a breakdown of your entire physiological system. Scheduling rest days in your training routine will help your body recover. Your rest can be active or complete. Active rest includes activities outside of running that do not provide as much stress to the joints but still challenge the muscular and cardiovascular systems, such as biking or swimming. Complete rest is refraining from all activities to allow full tissue recovery. Both are essential aspects of any training program. 

Don’t let an injury sideline you from your running career. Take care of your body before injuries occur, and your body will take care of you. If you’re not confident in following the above guidelines, don’t hesitate to ask for help from a professional, including a personal trainer with running knowledge or a physical therapist