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by Kelsey Plefka

Running hurts. This is a truth that every runner has come to terms with. No matter how great your runner’s high is after a good workout, we all still know the pain that’s felt when we’re struggling through a tough interval. The important thing to know is how to keep that pain from turning into an injury.

Injuries can unfortunately be an all too common occurrence in running. However, if you listen to your body and take the correct preventative measures, you will be a healthier, and hopefully, faster runner.

One of the main causes of injuries in runners is improper shoes. Running is a high impact activity. The pounding of your feet on the ground takes a lot bigger toll of your feet, ankles, and legs than most other forms of exercise. This generally means that more structure and cushioning is needed under the feet than if you were just going to the gym to ride the stationary bike or lift weights. A proper shoe fit is also important. Throwing on the cutest pair of generic brand shoes you find on the shelves of Target or Kohl’s is unfortunately not going to cut it. Specialty running shoes are designed to make you a more efficient runner. Specific design elements like arch support, cushioning, seamless uppers, and crash pads are made to help pronators, suppinators, and neutral runners alike. A specialty running store like Running Excels can analyze how your foot is hitting the ground and put you in a shoe that is going to be beneficial to your running form.

Another extremely easy way to prevent injuries is basic stretching. Before starting a workout, try doing some kinetic stretches. Runners never want to stretch cold muscles because there is always a risk of pulling something before even beginning exercise. Kinetic (or moving) stretches are a good way to warm the muscles before any intense aerobic activity. You can start from the top of the body and move down. Begin by swinging the arms back and forth across the body and then up and down. Twist from left to right at the waist to warm up the core. Bending forward and leaning backward slowly helped to stretch the hips and hamstrings and warm up the upper legs. Stretching after a run is just as important as stretching before. Static (or non-moving) stretches are recommended following exercise because muscles have already had the chance to warm up and are much more flexible.

Leg strengthening exercises like heel and toe walking and writing the alphabet in the air with your feet are also extremely beneficial in strengthening the small muscles in the feet and ankles that are sometimes otherwise ignored.

For more serious post-exercise pain, like shin splints or even pulled muscles, icing is one of the best rehabilitation techniques. Icing helps to decrease inflammation, which in turn decreases pain and reduces the risk of more serious injuries stemming from the minor pain. Always be sure to ice after your exercise. You never want to work out on cold muscles.

Rolling out your legs, before and after exercise, is also another easy exercise that can loosen muscles, work out knots, and help prevent injuries. Tools like The Stick and the Foam Roller are easy to use and can be purchased at Running Excels.

There is no doubt that running is going to hurt. But it shouldn’t injure you. Using these preventative techniques will help to make your runs and workouts much more comfortable.