The best way to avoid running injuries is to learn how to do it all over again

New year, new resolutions. Some runners may resolve to train more; to run a marathon or to take up trail running. But how many runners make a resolution to not get injured?

In 2018, between 30 and 50 per cent of runners will suffer an injury that may kerb their running plans. Overtraining, inappropriate footwear, weak muscles and overpronation are often blamed. However, poor technique may be the key problem for many injured runners.

Dr Christian Barton, a Melbourne-based physiotherapist and post-doctoral researcher at La Trobe University, says one small test could help fix this.

Back to basics

A runner himself, Barton recently published that found running retraining may help treat common running injuries from lower leg pain, runner's knee and shin splints to tibial stress fractures.

Put simply, retraining involves identifying any running mechanics that may be causing pain or injury. The therapist then provides the runner with visual, verbal, audible or physical cues to adjust these, developing a plan to ensure these are maintained.

"Often, when an injured runner has treatment, they don't receive any form of

running assessment," says Barton. "On the rare occasion when this happens, the assessment is done to help prescribe orthotics or a supportive pair of running shoes."

An overlooked science

Barton says there are several reasons why running retraining gets little attention by therapists.

"Globally, how to assess running technique is not taught in many undergraduate or postgraduate physiotherapy degrees," he explains.

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"If it does feature, it's very brief and isn't comprehensive enough to help a therapist implement with their patients. Combined with the fact that there's been very little research conducted on running retraining means it's not a well-known treatment option."

Barton was inspired to learn more about running retraining after visiting a gait laboratory nearly a decade ago. He started using some of the techniques he learned with his patients and saw immediate results. After years of reading and learning more about running gait and working with coaches, Barton is now a world leader in the practice.

"It's very rewarding when I get runners with persistent problems back to running pain free, especially when they have been told never to run again," says Barton.

The steps to better running

So, what adjustments can be made to help an injured runner?

Barton's study revealed that increasing step rate or cadence, and reducing over-stride and impact, is beneficial for most running-related injuries. Reducing hip adduction and knee collapse is recommended for many knee and hip injuries.

"For a runner who has a cadence of 170 or less, increasing this by five to 10 per cent is almost always safe and effective at reducing pain, as it typically reduces their running impact loads by 10-20 per cent," explains Barton.

Barton adds that transitioning from rear foot to forefoot strike may be effective for reducing lower leg pain, knee and hip injuries, although caution is recommended due to increased load at the foot and ankle: "Many runners create new injuries trying this" Barton adds.

Helping hands

Like all change, guidance from a sports physiotherapist or sports coach that understands running biomechanics and technique, how they relate to injury, and who has the skills and experience in running retraining is recommended to help runners adjust their gait.

It's also important to not change too much too soon. Working on one or two cues at a time is enough to see positive change, and will reduce the risk of creating new niggles or pain in other parts of the body.

"Running retraining is an emerging treatment that shows promising potential in the management of running-related injuries," says Barton. "If you're looking for a longer term fix rather than a Band-Aid treatment then a running assessment and improving your technique may be for you."

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill 

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