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Running Physiotherapy: Prevention and Treatment for Pains & Injuries


Running has become an increasingly popular sport in recent years. Whether you're an amateur enthusiast or a professional runner, running allows you to relax, challenge yourself, and offers benefits such as improved cardiovascular health and better sleep quality. The annual Hong Kong Standard Chartered Marathon attracts thousands of participants, proving the widespread love for running.

However, with the rise in popularity comes an increase in running-related pain cases. How can runners run safely and healthily? This article will explore how physiotherapy can prevent and treat common running pains and injuries.

Common Running Pains and Causes

1. Plantar Fasciitis​

Plantar fasciitis is a common running pain primarily caused by the overuse of the plantar fascia. This web-like connective tissue runs from the heel bone to the toes, supporting the arch and absorbing shock. Excessive impact on the plantar fascia can cause small tears, leading to inflammation over time.

Risk factors for plantar fasciitis include excess weight, intense running, and wrong force distribution, straining the plantar fascia and leading to inflammation.

2. Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) results from the overuse of the iliotibial band, a tendon running from the hip to the knee. When this band becomes tight and rubs against the thigh bone or the outside of the knee, it can cause inflammation and pain.

This pain is common among beginner runners and those who suddenly increase their exercise volume. Prevention methods include gradually increasing training intensity, avoiding overuse of the iliotibial band, and performing appropriate stretches before running and after exercising to reduce tension and friction.

3. Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are common injuries among runners. These usually occur when the ankle joint rolls inward, causing the outer ligaments to tear. Depending on the severity, sprains can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Preventive measures for ankle sprains include strengthening the ankle muscles, improving balance to enhance stability. Early treatment and rehabilitation can effectively reduce the risk of recurrent sprains.

4. Runner's Knee

Runner's knee is a common pain often caused by overuse or misalignment of the kneecap. This pain becomes more pronounced during running, climbing stairs, or prolonged sitting, with discomfort at the front of the knee.

To prevent knee injuries, focus on strengthening thigh muscles, maintaining proper running posture, and gradually increasing distance and intensity.

5. Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis refers to inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. This condition is common among new runners and those who suddenly increase their exercise volume, causing pain and stiffness at the back of the heel.

Preventive methods include gradually increasing exercise volume, maintaining Achilles tendon flexibility through proper physical conditioning. If you suspect Achilles tendonitis, it's recommended to seek professional advice from a physiotherapist.

6. Muscle Strain

Muscle strain occurs when muscles are overstretched or torn during exercise. For runners, this often happens in the thigh and calf muscles, causing severe pain and limited movement.

Preventive measures include thorough specific warm-up exercises before running, gradually increasing exercise intensity, and engaging in muscle strengthening. If a muscle strain occurs, rest, ice application, and physiotherapy are essential.

Physiotherapy Techniques for Treating Running Pains

1. Strength and Balance Training

Strength and balance training are crucial components of sports rehabilitation. Strengthening the calf, hip, and foot muscles can provide better body support, reducing stress on joints and fascia during exercise. Balance training aims to improve runners' stability and coordination, reducing injury risk. These exercises can be performed under the guidance of a physiotherapist.

2. Dry Needling

Dry needling is a physiotherapy technique that involves inserting needles into muscle trigger points to relax tight muscles, reduce pain, and promote blood circulation, alleviating muscle tension and pain associated with running.

3. Manual Therapy

Manual therapy includes joint mobilisation and soft tissue release techniques to improve joint range of motion, reduce muscle tension, and enhance blood circulation. This treatment can help runners relax stiff muscles, alleviate pain, and improve athletic performance.

4. Electro-physical Modalities

Physiotherapists commonly use different electro-physical modalities like ultrasound, electrotherapy, and heat therapy to assist runners experiencing pain. These approaches aid in reducing muscle swelling, reducing pain, and enhancing the healing of damaged tissues.

How to Prevent Running Pains and Injuries?

Running Posture Analysis and Improvement

Analysing and improving running posture is an essential step in preventing running injuries. Physiotherapists can evaluate a runner's static and dynamic posture, ground impact force, body symmetry, and muscle activation to identify bad habits and potential issues during running. Based on these findings, they can develop personalised training and physiotherapy plans to improve sports performance and prevent injuries.

Running-specific warm ups before and After Runs

Research suggested that sports-specific warm up exercises are effective for reducing injury risk. 

Contact a Physiotherapist to Learn More

The above physiotherapy techniques and methods can effectively help runners prevent and treat various running pains, enhance performance, and ensure a healthy and enjoyable running experience. If you have a passion for running, consider learning and practising these methods to make running safer and more enjoyable. If you have any questions about running pains or related physiotherapy knowledge, feel free to contact us for inquiries.

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