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Call it stubbornness, but I used to hate going to the physical therapist because it meant I was “officially injured.” And somehow I felt that if I was an injured runner, I must be doing it wrong. That is not necessarily true. Athletes of all levels encounter injury. It can be par for the course when you’re pushing your body to its limits. In the past 13 years of running I’ve only ever had three injuries: a bad case of plantar fasciitis when I first started running, a weak pelvic floor after giving birth to my second child three years ago and tendonitis in my calf muscle two years ago. With all those injuries I sought out the help of a physical therapist to help heal the injury.
Having a weakened pelvic floor isn’t necessarily a running-related injury, but if you have given birth and you want to train afterwards, strengthening your pelvic floor is a pretty important part of your postpartum return to running. It was during the time, when I was rehabbing my body after labor and delivery, that I realized that a physical therapist has so much more to offer beyond just treating the injury that has sidelined your running. In fact, a trip to the physical therapist when you’re NOT injured may be far more beneficial because it can help prevent running related injuries and make you stronger.
You might be doing all the right moves the wrong way. It’s easy to read an article on hip strengthening exercises or watch a video on the best glute moves for runners, but unless you have a trained eye looking at your form, you could be doing it incorrectly. Just recently I made a preventative trip to the physical therapist because I had noticed an increase in hamstring soreness in my left leg. She watched me perform the glute strengthening exercises that should have been preventing the hamstring soreness, but for some reason were ineffective. We discovered that my glute wasn’t firing properly because my knee was tracking more over my big toe as opposed to out in front of the foot. A slight tweak to the exercise (and my form when running) and suddenly my glute started “firing” like it was supposed to. With repetition of my PT exercises, the hamstring soreness has subsided. I was doing the right exercises, but doing them the wrong way.
Balance means efficiency. Being more efficient means running faster. Most running injuries are caused by weakness or imbalance in the body. A physical therapists trained eye can spot these problem areas and assist you in creating a strengthening plan to become more balanced. Having a strong core and balanced strength across the hips and glutes means a more efficient running stride, allowing you to go faster. So if your goal is to run faster, consider seeing a physical therapist before you embark on intensifying your training.
Prevention is the best medicine. If you’ve ever been injured, you know that sitting on the sidelines and not running can be unbearable. A preventative trip here or there to the physical therapist can go a long way in keeping you injury-free. Be mindful of chronic soreness or tightness that just doesn’t go away. It can be a signal that your body is imbalanced or weak. Seek the expert advice of a physical therapist who specializes in running.