Want to start running again? We can do it the Hard Way, or the Smart Way 

There’s an old saying that goes “you need to be fit to run, not run to get fit”. We have clients throughout Newcastle and Lake Macquarie who are keen to start running again, especially after a long break. There are a few keys principles that our Physiotherapists at ATUNE Health Centres always consider to make sure the return to running process is a successful one, not one that results in injury.

When you think about it, running is such a fundamental and innate movement for humans. From a historical perspective, running was one of the primary modes of hunting and gathering food for survival.

However, things are different in our modern society. Our ready access to food especially, along with modern day conveniences such as cars and trains has seen a reduction in how much running we as a species perform.

There’s two ways we can approach this desire to recommence running after a long break, whether it be due to young children, study, work commitments or injury- the first I refer to as the “Hard Way”.

The “Hard Way” is a sad scenario where our budding athlete, who has had some time off running or sport for a few years due to study, work or children, has realised that they need to do something to get active again.

Having loved running when they were younger, one Tuesday night after work they lace on the old shoes from the back of the cupboard and head straight out the door with the aim of running 5km “just like they used to”.

They’ll succeed, and write off the few “hotspots” of pain they experience in perhaps the knees, low back and heels as normal after such a long period off. However, when our born-again runner continues this for a week, two weeks, or a month- they find that those hotspot pains are worsening, not improving.

One day, inevitably the body can take no more and our budding athlete is stopped dead in their tracks with a swollen and painful knee.

This is usually the time that we first see our client who tries it “the Hard Way”. Indeed, it’s the point in the road where I first met one such client looking to start running again to seek our help. Let’s call her Tiffany (not her real name). And she’s not alone either.

If statistics are anything to go by, the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported in 2007 that as many as 79.3% of runners will experience musculoskeletal injuries.

If this was an injury rate in a workplace or even another sport, it would be front page news, however for running it is just considered as the norm.

One client, let's call her Tiffany, had stopped running while studying six years ago and now, having graduated, she wished to start running again as it was her passion and favourite pastime when she was younger.

Tiffany used to compete at a high level, however, she found that when she started to run again her right knee and hip became very painful, to the point that she couldn’t continue to push through the sharp pains that each step was causing.

After assessing Tiffany, we identified that there were some muscle imbalances in the right hip that had altered the way her right leg landed and stabilised itself while running, putting excessive load on the kneecap.

This muscle imbalance is usually fairly simple to correct with some tailored exercises, however because Tiffany had persisted for so long “the Hard Way”, it took a program of Physiotherapy to settle her knee pain before we could address the muscle imbalance effectively and start her running again without those hotspots.

As Tiffany was approaching the end of her rehabilitation, she asked me “was there something I could’ve done differently when I started running again so that this didn’t happen?”

My simple answer to Tiffany was “Yes, there are a few key and simple things we could’ve looked to do before you’d started running again. It would’ve given you the best chance of avoiding these injuries and hotspots, and it even might’ve made your running much faster and enjoyable.”

This last part really peaked her interest. It’s what I refer to as “the Smart Way” to start running again.

To be continued......