Fitness & Sports Performance

Avoiding Injuries: Learn How to Run the Right Way

Train to Run

You know the feeling. Your stride is great. Your pace is fantastic. And then you get a sharp grabbing pain in the back of your leg. Hamstring pull.

Or, you’re getting ready for the St. Luke’s Via Marathon in September and you’ve been running just about three miles a day, so you want to try a long run to see how it feels and how long it takes to cover 10 miles. The run doesn’t quite go the way you planned, and although you can finish it fairly worn out, by nighttime your legs are stiff and you’re limping.

Meet Joel Allen, PT, MSPT of Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s in Quakertown. Allen, a triathlete as well as physical therapist, is one of just two certified Healthy Running Coaches in Pennsylvania. He is trained and prepared to make sure you don’t injure yourself on your running journey, whether it’s “junk miles” to keep in shape or you’ve got the St. Luke’s Via Marathon circled on your calendar.

Joel Allen, PT

Joel Allen, PT

Physical Therapy

“It’s a balance,” Allen says of preventing common running injuries like shin splints, hamstring strains, ankle sprains and the occasional knee sprain. “The thing with running is that most of the muscles you use are anterior, in the front of your body like your hips and quads. I think you need to balance your body as a whole, to strengthen your low back and glute muscles as well.

“Strength training is something a lot of runners shy away from because they don’t want to ‘bulk up.’ Generally, the bigger you are, the slower you are, but developing lean muscle can go a long way to keeping yourself healthy.

Allen has several scientifically proven tools at his disposal to help runners and potential runners be at their very best no matter their running goals, from getting in shape to a 5K or longer distance, and even competitive track athletes.

  • Running mechanics – St. Luke’s can analyze your gait, stride and form to help you achieve your safest results. “Talking to a running expert and having a gait analysis give you the best chance for success,” Allen says.
  • Balance – Balance plays a crucial role in preventing unnecessary strain on the ankles and knees, which can cause sprains and other issues.
  • Hydration –The 64-ounce rule: 64 ounces of water daily, is a rule of thumb. Allen says “if you weigh more or are more active during the day, you may need more fluids during the day to keep enough elasticity to prevent injuries such as a muscle strain.”
  • Strength training – Not just strengthening the leg muscles alone, but making sure your quads don’t overpower your hamstrings in the wrong ratio, and that both sides of the body are nearly equal in strength.
  • Flexibility – Proper dynamic (or active) stretching before a workout, and active stretching along with static stretching after a run in order to make sure the muscle doesn’t contract and become too tight following the overall workload of the training session.
  • Proper footwear – Get checked by a professional to see what type of shoe such as cushioned or stability is right for your body type, running style and preferred running terrain.
  • Nutrition – Whether it’s post-workout or during a workout, having the proper amount of protein, fats and carbs in your diet is essential to successfully completing your goals and repairing your muscles. Longer runs require in-run nutrition such as energy gels to avoid “hitting the wall.”
  • Rest – Making sure you get proper rest is critical, whether it’s sleep or resting your body after hard workouts. Cross-training like swimming or riding a bike is an effective way to maintain or even improve fitness without stressing the running muscles.

“We look at everything from gait patterns, mechanics, nutrition, flexibility, strength and any kind of musculoskeletal defects,” Allen says. “We try to teach people how to run by educating them how to run efficiently to prevent injury.”