With the warmer weather finally here, many people are switching from running inside to outside to take in the sunshine after a long winter.
However, anyone doing so should know that there are various injuries that are more likely to occur with outdoor training— especially in hamstrings, hips, foot and ankle, said Melanie Strassberg PT, DPT, Assistant Clinical Director at Professional Physical Therapy. For this reason, it is essential to warm up properly, and take the necessary precautions as you move your fitness routine outside.
When running outside, you are using your hamstrings more than when you are inside, which is one reason why more injuries may occur outside. “When you are running on a treadmill, the belt underneath you does much of the propulsion of your body forward,” said Strassberg. “When you are on the ground, you are doing it yourself, using your hamstrings more, after your feet strike the ground.”
In addition, foot and ankle sprains and strains tend to be more common when switching to an outdoor routine. “With more uneven terrain like grass, dirt and sidewalk cracks, it can be more common to sprain the ankle. Wind resistance can also create increased instability while running, causing increased risk of sprains and strains,” said Strassberg.
Plus, the road has a natural slant. “If you are constantly running on the same side of the road, you are creating more stress on either the inside or outside of your feet, knees and hips, which can create a tendonitis of various muscles throughout your lower extremities.”
Preventing Outdoor Injuries
To prevent these injuries from occurring, Strassberg suggests the following:
Balance exercises: “This will help strengthen ankle and foot muscles to help with uneven terrain while running outside.”
Full-body strengthening: “Often, runners will only run for their workout. While this is a great way to stay in shape for your cardiovascular health, you are not strengthening all muscles that support your body while running. If exercises for core, glutes, quads and hamstrings are completed weekly, injury will be reduced.”
Stretching: “Doing a dynamic warm-up prior to your run and a static stretch and/or foam rolling after your run will help decrease post-running soreness, as well as decrease risk of sprains/strains while running.”
Warm Up: “Since your hamstrings are working harder in outdoor running, making sure they are warmed up is especially important. Completing a dynamic warm-up of inch worms, quad pulls, hamstring kicks, lunges, high knees and butt kicks a few times through would be a good way to warm up all muscles involved in running. Using the bike for five to 10 minutes before these stretches is a good idea as well, to increase the heart rate and warm the body up.”
Find the Right Shoe: “Depending on your terrain, you will want a road shoe or a trail shoe. Trail shoes are much heavier and provide more support for protection if you are planning to run more on trails rather than the road.”
When a Pain Occurs
If you are running and feel pain, it’s important to stop and rest and figure out where it’s coming from, said Stassberg, adding that the pain could be weather related, could be due to the location of outdoor running (side of street, trails, grass), you may need new shoes, or you could be dehydrated.
“If there is a pain that has more of a sharp, stabbing quality, it is important to see a doctor right away,” said Strassberg. “If you are experiencing a pain that is more of a dull ache, sometimes rest is needed, but if it is occurring every time you work out, you should get it checked out by a doctor or a physical therapist.”
Remedying an Injury
Of course, injuries still happen when you’re active, even if you feel you’ve done your best to prevent them. Once a strain or sprain occurs, here’s what Strassberg suggests you do:
Rest: “Allowing sprains and strains to heal before going out to run again is very important.”
Ice: “If an inflammation is created in a body part, icing the area down for 20 minutes at a time will help with pain and help to decrease the inflammatory process.”
See a Physical Therapist: “Physical therapists are experts in anatomy and movement analysis and can help with pain and tightness. We can also help you get back to your workout routine quicker.”
If you’re new to running, rather than jumping into it and risking injury, Strassberg suggests building yourself up by:
• Slowly increasing mileage. Your body is not used to running, so you cannot run five miles on your first day and not expect to have an adverse effect
• Start with an interval run for 20 minutes: one to two minutes run, then walk one to two minutes, for the duration of your run
• Make sure to dynamically warm up pre-run and statically stretch post-run.