Training for a 5K? Here are 7 injury-free running tips from an Orthopaedist

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Not only is signing up for a 5K a good way to create a goal-oriented exercise plan, it also supports meaningful causes, such as the Tunnel to Towers 5K, presented by Lexington Medical Center and born out of a reminder to “Never Forget” the national heroes of 9/11. Taking place on Fri., Sept. 9 at 6 p.m., the 5K is one of 80+ nationwide events annually organized by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

With the help of funds raised by race participants, the foundation has built nearly 450 mortgage-free Smart Homes + raised over $250 million for first responders, military members, and their families.

Okay, so you’re ready to sign up. Now it’s time to prepare your body to go the distance. Maybe a 5K (read: 3.1 miles) doesn’t sound like a long distance, but new research shows nearly half of recreational runners get injured during their everyday running.

Here to help all our runners + 5K participants out there is Lexington Medical Center Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine doctor J. Clint Pride, MD, who has seven tips to prevent running injuries.

First, let’s talk injuries

There are multiple common running injuries — most of which are considered overuse injuries — caused by repetitive microtrauma (think: occurring after repeatedly performing the same movement). Three common overuse injuries are:

  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS):PFPS is characterized by anterior (front) knee pain and likely is caused by a combination of poor patellar (kneecap) tracking + inflammation of the knee joint lining.
  • Achilles Tendinopathy: Achilles tendinopathy typically presents as pain in the back of the ankle after repetitive activity such as running.
  • Iliotibial Band Syndrome: IT band syndrome typically presents as pain near the outside of the knee + is usually present when performing repetitive knee motions and absent when at rest.
Lexington Med 2

These running will get you race (and trail) ready. | Photo provided by Lexington Medical Center

7 tips to run injury-free

Now that you know the injuries to avoid, here’s the best way to get running:

1. Have a good training plan.

The most effective way to prevent running injuries is to have a good plan for the training process of a race. Many people jump into running way too quickly instead of gradually increasing their training load over a prolonged period. This rapid increase in training intensity or duration will significantly increase the chance of developing the above conditions, among others.

2. Increase your running distance by no more than 10% per week.

When training, a good general rule of thumb is to not increase your distance more than 10% per week — and try to keep your heart rate at around 75% of your heart rate maximum.

3. Cross-train with resistance exercise.

One other way to prevent the above injuries is to cross-train with resistance exercise. Specifically, strengthening the quadriceps, hamstrings, lateral hip muscles, and the core will significantly reduce your chance for injury.

4. Fuel your body.

Many people are searching for a miracle pill or supplement for the prevention of musculoskeletal injury — but, sadly, it doesn’t exist. A well-balanced diet consisting of energy rich, calorically dense foods + daily multivitamin will give your body the fuel it needs to train and prepare for race day.

5. Know when to back off from training.

It’s normal to experience soreness after training — but this should not prevent you from running or working out. If you begin to experience focal pain (read: pain over a particular area of your body), then you should back off training until it resolves. If this pain does not resolve or quickly returns once you resume training, it is appropriate for you to seek medical care.

6. Know the difference between ice + heat for injury relief.

The mechanism of treatment for ice and heat are completely different. Ice is anti-inflammatory while heat is pro-inflammatory. Here’s how you should use them:

  • Ice: If you experience an acute episode of pain, ice should be your first go-to to reduce inflammation. Ice can be used in a variety of different ways but 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off is a good initial strategy.
  • Heat: Heat can be used to treat chronic or subacute types of pain as well as muscle spasm.

7. Bookend your training with a dedicated warm-up + cool-down.

Another thing beneficial for injury prevention is to have both a dedicated warm-up and cool-down period that bookends training. Your warm-up should consist of light physical activity combined with dynamic stretching to prepare your body for your training session. The cool-down period should be another small session of light physical activity combined with static stretching to help loosen up your tight muscles that were just stressed.

Ready to run in a 5K (injury-free)? Register for the Tunnel to Towers 5K.*


On average, how many steps are in a 5K?

a. 5,255
b. 6,250
c. 6,600
d. No one knows, really

Take a guess

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