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Physical Therapy for Runners: How to Safely Train & Build Strength

distance runners running on the road in summer

The more we learn about health and injury, the more the saying “Exercise is the best medicine” rings true. Here in Portland, running is one of the most popular recreational activities and it’s easy to see why. More and more evidence points to the benefits of running including preventing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and even some cancers. That’s in addition to the positive impact it can have on our overall physical and mental health. Unfortunately, most runners will deal with an injury of some sort due to the repetitive stresses running puts on the body. Fortunately, there is a lot someone can do to prevent injuries and physical therapy can help.

1. Train Smart

The easiest step in preventing injury is to train smart. Anyone can get injured by running too much, too soon or too fast. Training errors are the number one cause of running injuries. As you increase running distance, speed and time, the body needs time to rest and recover so it can handle the increasingly demanding loads. By doing too much, too fast, too soon, the body is unable to recover properly and instead of getting stronger, muscles and tissues break down further instead of getting stronger. A safe and easy way to progress is by using the 10% Rule – only increase activity by 10% per week. This means, if you ran 10 miles one week, run 11 miles the second week. By training smart, many injuries can be prevented.

2. Use Good Form

Another simple way to prevent injury is by making sure you are running with good form. A physical therapist can address an individual’s specific running gait and make corrections to prevent injury. For example, shortening your running stride length can reduce the risk of tibial stress fracture by up to 6%, and corrections to the heel strike can reduce stress on bones, tendons and ligaments.

3. Increase Strength

Strengthening is also an important part of injury prevention. Many runners deal with knee pain at some point in their running careers and quadriceps strengthening alone generally isn’t the answer. Runners have strong quads and hamstrings but often have significant hip weakness. Strengthening the glutes, gluteus medius and maximus as well as the core helps runners stay strong with good form and good alignment during the run, and decreases strain on the knees and ankles.

female runner stretching4. Rest

Lastly, knowing when to rest is hugely important. Learn to listen to your body and pay attention to what it is telling you. By running and training smart, you can prevent injury and run stronger for years to come.

If you’re a runner living in the Portland, Oregon area, contact us at 503-295-2585 and one of our talented clinical team members can do an assessment and prescribe a customized training program for you to help prevent injuries. If you live outside the Portland area, please visit apta.org to find a qualified physical therapist in your area. And read our blog on How to Find a Good PT.

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