Published on in Health Tip of the Week
Running has long been a popular means of physical activity for young athletes. Track and field and cross country are consistently among the most popular sports for both male and female high school students, and interest is growing among younger audiences with the development of competitive running programs and clubs geared toward elementary and middle school-aged participants.
While running is a great way to increase physical activity and overall wellness, the potential for injury increases with greater involvement in the sport. So, what can you do to prevent running injuries?
Whether you just started running or you’re gearing up for a race, these tips from the running medicine team at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) can help you train right and stay healthy this season.
No matter what your running goals are, success always starts with a plan. The proper training regimen can help new runners get in shape and experienced runners increase their mileage or pace. Free training schedules can easily be found online, and smartphone apps can help with pacing and workout tracking. Look to trusted sources for training schedules, and don’t hesitate to ask your gym teacher, coach, athletic trainer or doctor for advice. As you start training, here are some useful tips to keep in mind:
- Start slow. Gradually increase your mileage and pace. Don’t try to do too much too soon.
- Healthy habits prevail. Nurture your body with healthy foods, especially colorful fruits and vegetables and complex carbohydrates, like beans and whole grains. Getting sufficient sleep will help your body recover after a hard workout.
- Keep it interesting. Vary your workout mileage, intensity and running surfaces. To stay motivated, run with a friend, a group or a team. Consider alternating running workouts with another aerobic activity (e.g., cycling or swimming) to strengthen new muscles and limit the wear and tear caused by high-mileage running.
- Allow schedule fluctuations, but remain committed. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a workout. Life happens and strict schedules can’t always be followed. Try your best to make up the time, but know that it’s OK to miss a workout every now and then.
- Set goals. Keep yourself engaged by striving for both short- and long-term objectives.
Common running injuries and how to prevent them
Even if you’re following an ideal training regimen, running injuries can still occur. In fact, about 85% of runners will suffer a running-related injury each year. It’s important to be aware of common running injuries so that you can take steps to prevent them.
“Overuse” injuries occur frequently in youth sports, but are particularly prevalent in runners. Bones lengthen before muscles, making growing children susceptible to traction injuries where their tendons insert into bones (apophyses).
Stress fractures of the foot (metatarsal) and lower leg (tibia) are also common, and are some of the more serious running injuries. These typically result from repetitive pounding and running through early warning signs of pain. In some cases, stress fractures even require surgery. Discomfort that occurs even while walking and/or pain that doesn’t go away with rest should always be evaluated by a healthcare provider.
Although running-related injuries are common, many are preventable when you take appropriate precautions and allow yourself to recover when injured. The CHOP running medicine team offers the following injury prevention tips to keep you moving forward:
- Train smarter, not harder. Research suggests that runners can reduce their risk of injury by training for more than two months before a competition, avoiding exclusively training on hills and/or uneven terrain, and alternating short and long mileage days.
- Running isn’t just about your feet. Keeping your legs, hips and core strong will improve your performance and help prevent injury.
- Build in rest days. Excessive training isn’t healthy for anyone. Current guidelines recommend taking at least one to two days off from training every week and limiting participation in a single sport to less than 75% of the year.
- Don’t overdo it. Mileage for most young and/or inexperienced runners should be no more than 30 to 40 miles each week. Elite runners who aim for a higher weekly mileage should train under the supervision of a coach.
- Stretch it out. Don’t forget to warm up before a workout and cool down afterward. Stretching is critical to improving your flexibility and recovering after difficult workouts.
- Listen to your body. Some minor injuries can become major ones if you ignore pain when it first occurs. Know when it’s time to stop.
- Get the mechanics right. The repetitive motion of running long distances can result in frequent injuries for runners with poor form. Improving your form may help with injury prevention and can also improve your performance. Ask your coach to evaluate your form or schedule a formal running evaluation that uses video motion analysis. This service is offered to both healthy and injured runners at CHOP’s Running Medicine Performance Clinic.
Overall, running is an excellent way to increase your health and well-being. Don’t forget — train smart, have fun and never stop running toward your goals!
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