Women runners precautions address physical differences and prevent injuries

Home techniques
These exercises you can do at home are meant to strengthen core muscles and stabilize the hips to better handle the repetitive impacts of running and thereby help prevent running-related injuries. Until you are comfortable doing the exercises, it might help to start in front of a mirror. You’ll need a latex exercise band, which is inexpensive and available online or through many sporting goods suppliers. Start with 10 repetitions on each side for each exercise. Hailey Baldwin demonstrates the exercises with instruction from physical therapist Chris Vergona at Rebound Physical Therapy on Bend’s west side.

Hip abduction
Stand with the left foot on something elevated, such as a phone book, so the hips can remain level. Tie one end of an exercise band around the right leg and attach the other end to something sturdy, such as a table leg. Keep left leg in alignment, with the hip over the knee. Slowly move the right leg out to the right, pulling against the resistance of the band. Slowly bring leg back. Exercise should be felt on the outside of the hip. Touching something sturdy, such as a wall or furniture, is advised for balance.

Single leg squats
Using a step is optional. Start with the left leg bent in front, or on a step. Step back with the right foot and bend the knees to where it’s comfortable. Lower the body behind you, as if you’re sitting, so the left knee does not bend out in front of the left toes. Keep hips level. This should be felt in the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps.

Happy feet exercise
Wrap exercise band around both feet. Squat slightly with feet apart and hips level. Walk sideways, stepping to each side, keeping feet apart and keeping tension on the band. This is felt on the outside of the hips.

In recent decades, female participation in sports has boomed, and women are running more than ever. With Bend’s first all-women’s half marathon and many other co-ed distance races coming up, there’s no doubt a lot of ladies are amplifying their mileage these days.

Studies suggest that female runners are more susceptible to certain injuries than men, especially stress fractures, anterior cruciate ligament injuries and knee pain. Despite the possibility of injury, it’s extremely important for women of all ages to be active, according to Dr. Viviane Ugalde, a physiatrist at The Center: Orthopedic & Neurosurgical Care & Research, in Bend. So she and other experts want to help women prepare prior to tackling a 5K, half-marathon or triathlon, so they can run without pain.

Getting started

Ugalde suggested that new runners take an educational course through Footzone or Fleet Feet running stores in Bend, which offer sessions for all levels of runners for various distances of races. Experts there can cater a plan to each individual. Novice runners have higher chances of getting hurt than more-experienced runners, she said, but education programs can help prevent injuries.

Carrying extra weight can increase a runner’s chance of getting hurt, she added.

“This doesn’t mean that obesity should prevent you from running, but starting out with water aerobics or a spin cycling program to help with weight loss might be a smarter route to achieve both weight loss and exercise goals. Novice runners who are obese should increases their intensity more slowly to avoid injuries,” she said.

Why women are at risk

An article in The Croatian Medical Journal in 2007 studied typical overuse injuries in females and the physiological reasons behind them. It said, for example, women typically have wider pelvises than men, aligning the angle of their femurs in a way that could predispose them to more knee pain. And women have smaller surface areas in the knee joint, leading to speculation that ligaments get impinged in the knee.

Women also tend to have more flexible hamstrings, which could be linked to anterior cruciate ligament injury risk, the article said. Female athletes tend to have more “joint laxity” than their male counterparts, and some studies have shown that joint movement, or instability, increases the risk of anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Training tips
There are ways to train for long-distance running events that can reduce the risk of injury.

Mark DeJohn, owner of Active Therapeutics, an “active release technique” provider, noted that most people were never taught how to run. If runners don’t stride correctly, they wind up with pain, he said. It’s fairly common for runners to cross their feet in front of them when they run, which results in hip pain. He recommends groin stretches for those runners. For all runners he recommends the Good Form Running clinic through Footzone, which is free and requires a small commitment of time.

Other suggestions from DeJohn:

  • Warm up the body before pushing to exertion.
  • Stretch the hamstrings and the quads after you’re done running, or separately from running. Stretch muscles when they are warm.
  • Gradually increase speed by boosting your tempo for a half-mile or a mile at a time, rather than hitting the track for an intense sprinting interval workout before the body is conditioned for that. This technique will lower the risk of tendon, joint and muscle injuries.
  • Regularly practice “functional” strength training — weight-bearing exercises that involve the abdomen and back in movements that mimic real life activities, rather than isolating one particular muscle.

Mike Tompkins, a physical therapist who manages the west-side location of Rebound Physical Therapy, agreed that functional strength training, complementary to running, helps prevent injuries. “There’s a misconception about strength,” he said. “Runners think they’re strong because they can run 15 miles. The truth is, running creates endurance, but you might get weaker in some places.”

Hips are generally an important area for all runners to focus on. Doing leg lifts and hip rotations, either with the body on the ground or standing on one leg, are examples of functional exercises. Lumbo-pelvic strength will improve control and balance, and can go a long way toward injury prevention, he said. (See photos for some examples.)

One woman’s experience

Bend runner Connie Austin, the creator and a coach for a local “Learn to Run” program, (learntorunfun.com) had transitioned into minimalist shoes and ran mostly on soft trails. Then she ran the women’s half marathon in Eugene, which was entirely on paved surfaces.

“The next week I found a stress fracture in my foot,” she said. All that hard pounding on pavement in her light racing flats caught up with her a few days after what had felt like a good race.
Her advice: “Know the surface of your race and run and practice on that. It can make a difference.”
The old standby advice to injury-free distance training is to increase weekly mileage no more than 10 percent per week. Over-training has left Austin with stress fractures in her shins, femur and hip. She also said runners need to vary their workouts. Mix some hill runs with some flat ones. Mix short, faster-tempo runs with long, slow runs. And take plenty of time off in between to let the body recover, she said

Learning from experience with painful plantar fasciitis in her foot, she recommends caring for the myofascial tissue in the feet by stepping on a tennis ball or golf ball and rolling it around under the weight of the foot.

Austin and others also emphasized the importance of getting enough sleep, proper nutrition and hydration for healthy training and recovery.