Whether you’re on a track, out on the street, or on the treadmill in the gym, running is a great cardio activity that burns calories, builds leg and hip strength, and boosts your heart and lung capacity. If you don’t build the right ratio of flexibility and strength, or your joints are out of alignment, running will take a toll on your body. It will leave you with injuries that stop you from running.
Bones move, joints feel, and muscles react to surfaces and conditions that your body encounters. If your body is in alignment and the joints can function independently, then the muscles, tendons, and ligaments can do their job.
Here’s number one on my list:
Achilles Tendonitis (& Tear)
The Achilles tendon connects your calf muscles to your heel bone, and fires every time you walk, jump, or go running. Tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon, and it often happens when we push our bodies to do too much, too soon.
If your shoulders are rounded, your head is forward, or your feet are turned out, the joints can’t stay in line, and the body falls forward. This puts a 24-hour strain on the calf muscles and ultimately, the Achilles tendon, as it tries to keep you from falling over. When you then start an intense running or exercise program with those tight calf muscles and misaligned joints, that’s too much extra stress on the Achilles tendon. Tendons don’t stretch much. They tear.
The tendonitis will feel like an ever-present swelling at the back of your heel that starts when you get up. It gets worse throughout the day and with almost any activity. It will hurt even when you sit. If you tear the tendon away from the heel, you will feel a burning along the inside of the heel, and it doesn’t go away.
Marathon training will end quickly when the Achilles tendon acts up, and it should. Listen to your body. You cannot push through this! Take the time off and heal. Being young and “fit” won’t help you with this injury. Rest and targeted exercises will.
How to avoid it?
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Is your head forward, are your shoulders rounded, and are your feet turned out? These are loud and clear alarms. Listen. Fix your alignment before you run another mile. There are people who can help you, who know movement, and who can get your body back to its natural design. It takes time, a little money, but mostly it takes your commitment to being pain free and to running well.
Wear quality supportive shoes that are right for your level of training and ability. If you are piling on the mileage, change shoes weekly. Maintain an intelligent training balance for your experience and avoid a dramatic increase in your workout regimen. Run with a partner to keep your workout strong but in line with your conditioning levels and goals. We can all get carried away with our training!
Specific steps to take:
Stretch your calves for a minute or two, one leg at a time, on a curb, a step, or on the side of the treadmill before you take one running step.
After your run, do it again. Your calves get tight when you sit, even tighter if you put your feet under your chair, so don’t do that. Stretch them all the time to avoid being hurt when you run. An Achilles tendon tear will take you out of running for months, even years, so stretch the calves! Trust me. I lost a year of running after an Achilles tendon tear.
Strengthen your quads with a Wall Sit or Air Bench and loosen your hamstrings with a Runners Stretch. Work your ankles; make them supple, able to rotate in all directions, and to point and flex. Simple exercises like Foot Circles & Points and Flexes are easy to do every day. Your toes are there for push-off, balance, and to build the arch of your foot. Make sure they work through Toe Scrunches and Curls.
Comment below and we’ll send you a Mini-series of exercises to keep your joints working, tendons responsive, and muscles strong and flexible.
Who’s writing this? Bill Boland is a lifetime runner and an exercise physiologist based in New York, where he directs the BodyFix Method™ clinic. BodyFix Method™ is a straightforward series of personalized exercise and movement therapies to eliminate chronic and traumatic pain. It is not your standard physical therapy.