With restrictions still changing and some choosing not to return to the gym just yet, we are seeing more people try out running, with the number of people using the Couch to 5k app increasing 92 per cent since 2019.
In fact, according to NHS England, March to June 2020 alone saw over a million downloads, demonstrating how popular running has become.
However, care is needed to take you through the winter months to avoid injury and so physiotherapy specialist, New Victoria Hospital, has offered advice on everything you need to know on running through winter.
Physiotherapy Manager, Chinyelu Obi, has warned that people need to ensure they’re properly prepared this winter in order to avoid injury – particularly if they are first time runners. Her advice includes:
- Common misconceptions: The biggest misconception around running, Chinyelu says, is that most people believe that it is enough to do just that – run: “When most people take up running, they primarily think of getting fitter (improving their cardiovascular fitness) and don’t normally consider the effect it has on other structures. As cardiovascular fitness improves quicker than the length of time it takes cartilage and joints to improve, it is important to improve muscle strength as well to help protect the joints.” This is also vital as the load going through the joints can be between five to seven times your body weight.
- Ground running: Running in winter provides a new level of challenge. “The ground can be uneven and slippery thanks to wet or cold weather and the drop in temperature puts extra strain on the lungs and muscles to keep the body warm,” Chinyelu advised. “Add to this the fact that people sweat less in cold weather, so assume they don’t need to hydrate as much as they should do which exacerbates the cramping that cold muscles are prone to.”
Given the factors mentioned above, the most common running injuries seen in the winter include Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, patella femoral pain syndrome, Iliotibial band friction syndrome (ITB) and shin pain. To ensure you prepare for safe running in winter, including appropriate clothing, footwear, gear and assessing the terrain, Chinyelu suggests:
- Warm up and cool down correctly:It is important to do a pre-run warm up indoors if possible as this helps to increase the circulation to the muscles and gets the body ready for exercise. For example, dynamic stretching before a run helps to optimise joint movement and increases blood flow to the muscles. Static muscle stretching after a run can help to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
- Ensure you are well hydrated: We are prone to drinking less water during winter. When muscles become dehydrated the blood flow to them reduces, causing them to cramp and tighten. Tight muscles are easier to injure. Energy bars can also be helpful on longer runs.
- Strengthen and stretch your muscles: Strengthen your core and lower limbs, particularly your gluteal muscles as this will help to maintain a stable pelvis whilst running. Practice regular stretching to increase flexibility which will help prevent muscle pulls/cramps.
- Rest: Rest days are just as important as run days. Ensure you have a rest day in between run days and don’t run when injured or if niggles start to present themselves.