A Runner's Support Crew
You don’t have to be an Olympian to get expert advice to conquer injury or raise your game. Welcome to the runner’s support crew ...
GENERAL PRACTITIONER (GP)
The first port of call for most injured runners is their GP’s surgery. Book in with a doctor experienced in sports injuries if you can. Having a clear idea of what’s gone wrong, when, where and how will help during the consultation. Your doctor might refer you to a specialist, like one of those below. If you have private insurance, you will usually need written proof of this referral to make a claim. Many specialists also take patients directly; seek recommendations from your GP, fellow runners or your local sports centre.
Podiatrists assess and treat the lower-limb musculoskeletal injuries – like shin splints – that many of us just ignore or hope will go away when we buy new shoes. According to podiatrist Scott Shand BSc, runners should see a podiatrist for a proper assessment when they have any lower-limb pain, “to devise a treatment plan to reduce the pathological forces causing the soft tissue or bony trauma.”
Your podiatrist will get a history of your injury or pain, assess your footwear and muscle function, analyse your gait on a treadmill and examine the biomechanics of your lower limb to get a full idea of what is causing your problem. Treatments include footwear advice, provision of orthotics (custom-made devices that fit inside your shoe), podiatric acupuncture and foot-mobilisation therapy.
Many runners only see a physio when a particular problem becomes unbearable. But it’s far better to see one at the ‘niggle’ stage, or before you even start running, for a biomechanical assessment.
Physiotherapist, Lisa Leonard says: “A physiotherapist can work a runner through a specific exercise programme and manual therapy to address biomechanical discrepancies or muscle weakness that might hinder or prevent efficient running style.”
Treatments include education and advice, manual therapy (including soft-tissue massage, deep myofascial release and joint mobilisation), strapping and taping (for stability or facilitation), and personalised exercise prescriptions – in other words, much more than just rest and ice!
“Sports massage isn’t just for high-level athletes,” stresses massage therapist Sheryl Donaldson. “Everyone can benefit from deep-tissue massage and flexibility and strength training – including beginners.”
Massage therapy can help improve flexibility, prevent injury, reduce muscle spasm and promote balance in the body – all with a view to improving performance. Sheryl says: “All runners should incorporate a regular sports massage into their schedule, especially if training for an event. Massage plays an important role in helping to prevent injury by targeting tight areas and addressing muscle imbalance.”
Common runners’ complaints like knee, Achilles and calf pain can often be treated (and prevented) very effectively with deep-tissue massage and stretching.
Poor nutrition during training can contribute to reduced immune function, reduced performance during training and delayed recovery. Poor nutrition during a race can often lead to poor performance and every runner’s nightmare - hitting the wall. To avoid both those scenarios, a sports dietitian will use the science of nutrition to ensure that you are taking in the right levels of protein, carbohydrates, fluids and nutrients for effective performance; they will also take into account factors like training/racing goals, weight, allergies and deficiencies to make evidenced-based recommendations.
SPORT AND EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGIST
On a simple level, running is about putting one foot in front of the other. But at higher levels of sport, or when physical training doesn’t seem to be enough to achieve your goals, you might need to start training your brain. A sport and exercise psychologist can help prepare your mind for better running by using techniques like relaxation, deep concentration, thorough preparation and focus, as well as visualising success, dealing with doubt, and talking yourself through your race plan.
A personal trainer can help runners achieve a more balanced fitness to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. PTs can also help us achieve an enhanced level of strength, flexibility and endurance by adding weights, stretching and cross-training into a what’s often a ‘run, run, and then run some more’ regime.
If you’re working towards a particular event, a personal trainer can work with you to design – and execute – a focused training plan. Many are also qualified running coaches who can guide you through your speedwork or long runs, evaluate your running posture, and, of course, offer motivation along the way.
No matter where you are in your running career, there’s an expert who can help you improve. Most importantly, don’t wait until an easily treated niggle becomes an enforced three-month layoff, or a long performance plateau drains your motivation.