Five tips for avoiding exercise injury

Don’t let exercise injury knock you off your feet! Ian Skinner is part of the Pain group at NeuRA. Here he gives his five tips for avoiding injuries when exercising.


  1. Build Up Slowly

This is the most important principle of any training regime. Whether you are training for a cycle, run, walk or trek, it is far better to start slowly with your training load, slower perhaps than you first think, and then gradually build up. There is no point going out and running 5km on your first run if it means you break down and can’t run for the next three weeks. The body is great at adapting to the load we place on it, but only if we do it in a controlled and gradual manner. If we push our body too hard and too fast then muscles, tendons and bones are not given the chance to adapt to what we are expecting of it. By going slow we give our body the chance to adapt and if something isn’t right our body will warn us before we cause too much damage.


  1. It’s not just about how far you run

It is always a good feeling when we run a little bit further than we did the day before. It means our body is responding and we are getting fitter. Consistently stressing the same body tissue will result in a greater chance of injuring that tissue. Cross training, or different forms of training can not only help avoid overuse injuries, but ensure you maintain interest and don’t get bored running the same route all the time. Cycling and swimming are both low impact, reducing the stress through your lower limbs. You will still be getting a great cardio work out but without the added cost to your body. Even one session a week of a different form of exercise will still be beneficial and maintain your motivation. When you are doing a running session remember it’s not only the distance you can vary. The speed or pace you run, the intervals, the number of sessions, the time between sessions and your training heart rate can all be varied. Varying your training regime is particularly important when you have established a ‘base’ level of fitness as you get closer to race day.


  1. Get any injuries sorted now

Previous injuries or injuries that have not healed appropriately are a key risk factor in novice runners who are starting a new training regime. The most common injuries in novice runners are medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints), patella femoral pain (knee), meniscal injury (knee), Achilles tendinopathy (Achilles tendon), and plantar fasciitis (foot). If any of these conditions sound familiar, then it is even more important you take it that little bit slower. A visit to a physiotherapist to determine any muscle imbalances can help prevent any of these injuries occurring. By following the first rule, ‘build up slowly’, you can help prevent most of these injuries.


  1. Shoes- they matter

Don’t be intimidated if you go into a shoe store and they start talking about valgus or varus foot shapes, or supination or pronation movements of the foot. I get confused just listening to them. The foot and ankle are a complex series of joints and are not easy to understand. If you look at your shoes and think they are looking a bit old, then it’s probably time to replace them. Don’t feel pressured to buy the most expensive pair of shoes, or the most colourful. The trick is to get a pair that is light but still provides stability for your feet. Something that can bend all the way back on itself and will give you the stability you need. Many overuse injuries of the legs, such at those mentioned above, will have some biomechanical component to them. A common culprit is collapsing arches or flat feet. Essentially if the inside arch of your foot is too flat, or “collapses” this can place extra stress on your ankle, Achilles tendon, lower leg, knee and even the hip. If you’re used to wearing orthotics in your shoes, and you just forgot about them or they wore out eventually it might be worthwhile seeing if you can dig them out, or thinking about getting some new ones.


  1. Cool down/ lower limb strength

We have come a long way from doing static stretches before we exercise. The best evidence suggests that stretching your quadriceps for 30 seconds before you go for a run, probably won’t make a huge difference. Whilst it is important to still ‘warm-up’ before exercise, its best to think of this as a gradual build-up of whole body movements.

What is more effective is a proper cool down; some long static stretches may be beneficial here. But even more so, incorporate a stretching and strengthening component to your training regime. Two sessions a week of primarily lower limb strength work, and flexibility can really make a difference. You don’t need to go out and join a gym; a park bench is the most you will need. Squats, lunges and step-ups will go a long way to improving the strength of your lower limbs and help avoid those injuries.


Above all else make sure you are enjoying what you are doing. If you are not enjoying it, you are likely to take shortcuts, likely resulting in annoying injuries. Good luck.


Now you’re ready to take on the challenge!  Sign up for the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival and enjoy one of the most spectacular courses in the world while raising vital funds for neuroscience research.


Prepared by Ian Skinner

Ian has completed a Bachelor of Management in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Technology in Sydney, then headed to Perth to study Physiotherapy at The University of Notre Dame. Ian is currently completing a PhD at NeuRA investigating the transition from acute to chronic low back pain. As a registered physiotherapist, Ian has a keen interest in why some people get better after hurting their back and why others continue to experience ongoing pain. He has worked clinically as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist and assists sporting teams on the weekend as a physiotherapist. Ian also coaches schoolboy rugby. Previously Ian conducted research on Achilles Tendinopathy, a common condition in middle distance and marathon runners, investigating if some people are predisposed to ongoing problems.


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