Getting Fit Without Getting Hurt

Matthew Gordon, PT, DPT talks about how to start a new workout plan without injuring yourself. Listen to the audio or read the Q&A below.

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Tell us about yourself?
I am a doctor of physical therapy and I have worked at the Mettler Center now for nearly 2 years. I am currently training to run the Christie Clinic Marathon in April, following this I am going to be doing a half Iron man in July and also am planning on doing the Chicago Marathon later this year.

What are some of the more common areas people can sustain injuries to while they are training for a marathon, ½ marathons, 10k, or 5k?
As we run our feet, legs, pelvis, and spine have to absorb up to 8 times our body weight each time we land. This increased force on our joints and muscles can really take its toll on our body. Thus injuries can include the foot, ankle, lower leg, knee, thigh, hip, and lower back.

Out of these areas what are some of the most common injuries you see as people train to run?
Plantar Fasciitis, tendonitis or tendonopathy of the muscles in the lower leg, shin splints, knee pain – especially around the knee cap, hamstring and quad strains, and low back pain.

How do most of these injuries occur?
Typically, injuries occur as the result of poor mechanics, reduced flexibility, weakness, and not allowing enough time to heal.

For example, if a person is relatively weak in the gluts they will not be able to control their lower extremity when the foot lands. As a result the hip can flare, the thigh bone can rotate in and consequently cause the shin to rotate in. When the shin rotates in the arch of the foot will fall and the foot as a whole will become less stable. Poor mechanics like this can lead to overstretching and strain of muscles, increased stress on joints and thus joint pain, as well as irritation to the fascia in the foot which leads to plantar fasciitis.

What are somethings every runner should be doing?
First, a good stretching program is key. When we have a tight muscle it can prevent normal motion from occurring. This then leads to abnormal movements and can increase stress elsewhere in the body and if this goes unchecked can lead to injury.

Second, strengthening the legs. Running puts more force into your body when you land, and you have to strengthen the muscles of the legs so that they are able to absorb these forces without injury.

If people do not know what to stretch or strengthen this is when the guidance from a physical therapist can help get your ready for the race and keep you safe while you train.

Have you personally dealt with any of the issues listed – and how did you handle training while injured?
I actually strained one of my glut muscles last year during the third week of training. I tried to extend my run by a half mile and about 30 seconds into the extra half mile I started to feel a sharp pain in my gluts. After the run and into the next few days the pain increased and greatly affected my running. I had to take some time off from running and specifically strengthen the muscle that was strained. But more importantly I had to strengthen the entire leg and address flexibility issues that lead to the initial strain.

What advice would you give to someone who is training and currently feeling pain?
Regardless of if the pain you are having is acute or chronic, sharp or dull, intense of dull there is a reason for that pain. And the pain is acting as a warning light telling you that something needs to be fixed. When this is happening it is time to see a physical therapist that can assess your strength, flexibility, and running. The easiest thing to do is to come into the Mettler Center and take advantage of a free 30 minute consult where myself or the other physical therapists can assess you and give you advice on what to do next.

I also want to tell everyone that if you have set a goal to walk or run any of the distances at the different races this year – you don’t have to do it in pain. The therapists at the Mettler Center are here to help you achieve your goals and to help you do to so while functioning at your best.

What if someone is not currently in pain but is simply unsure of running mechanics, how fast to progress their running, or what exercises they should be doing?
When a person is unsure about how to progress or what exercises they should be doing talking with one of the Physical Therapists at Mettler is a great choice. We can spend time talking with patients about how to safely progress and assess their movement patterns to finds areas of weakness or decreased flexibility. Once we find these abnormalities we work with patients to create individualized exercise programs that will help reduce the risk of injury while training for a race.