As a physical therapist the one thing I hate having to do the most is telling people they need to stop doing something they love doing, but when I feel their injury was preventable I feel even worse. As an avid runner myself I know the situation all too well, something starts to hurt, we push through it, ice it, tape it, heat it, but we don’t talk about it for fear that someone (my wife in my case) will say, “Maybe you should stop running”, or “Why not rest a few weeks”. Over the next few months through this newsletter I hope to provide you with valuable information that will help prevent any injuries, but I also hope to help dismiss the myth that we should push through all our injuries. I hope to make you realize that the right treatment can make all the difference.
The first place to start when talking about injury prevention in my mind is stretching. Everyone has heard it, and most of us always recommend it to friends looking to start running. How do we know when and how much of it is right? Whenever a new patient comes to see me with a running or other sports related injury, the first thing I always ask them about is their warm up, stretching, and cool down routines. I refer to these as the, “apples” of sports injury prevention, one of each per workout will keep the doctor away. Often the excuse for not doing any or all of them is the same, time.
Warming up should not be time intensive, but it should be thorough, also when you do the same warm up routine before each workout or practice, the warm up becomes as much of a psychological preparation as it does a physical one. Come race or game day that warm up will help calm your nerves and comfort you, everything around you may be chaotic and different but your routine is simple and the same. For runners I always recommend jogging enough to work up a good sweat, if it is cold out this will mean planning to wear extra layers, then taking them off at some point. Following the jog, dynamic stretching is the way to go, this helps to loosen your muscles in the fashion they are about to be used. The routine I find most helpful is, high knees, butt kicks, toy soldiers, stepping over the fence, toe jumps, walking hamstring stretching, and walking quad stretching. In general 20 yards of each is about right.
Following your workout comes the cool down, this is where you are preparing your body to go from activity to recovery, and getting ready for your next workout. What you do for a cool down is not as important, as simply doing something other than stopping. Keep moving, jog, walk, anything to keep moving and slowly let your heart rate come down. Laying on the ground, sitting in on a bench or in your car will all cause your body to tighten up and could make you prone to injuring yourself on your next run, or worse walking into work.
Now for the step most people leave out, the post workout stretch. Ideally we would all have a half hour to devote to this following each workout or run, but that is simply not the case. However, we need to remember that taking five to ten minutes to stretch the muscles commonly tight could go a long way towards preventing injuries. I like to start by standing with my heel planted on the ground and my toes pulled back toward me, this will get your calves and hamstrings, do thirty second holds twice on each leg. Then switch to your prefered method if of IT Band stretching, I like to cross my legs and reach for my toes, again because this also gets my hamstrings. Last I’ll stretch my quads and anything else that feels tight that day. If you have time to sit and stretch your back that is great, but for me by now my dog has almost licked me to death and its time to play fetch!