Prevent and Heal Running Injuries with Chi Running
A quick glance at the Chi Running bulletin boards shows that one of the most popular and frequent topics of discussion is injury healing and prevention. Many runners, after years of employing power running techniques, find themselves faced with the need to either give up running altogether or to so severely curtail the amount and frequency of their running that it no longer provides high quality exercise, time for introspection or enjoying nature, or any of the other reasons why running is so popular. At the other end of the spectrum, we often see beginning runners who are either unsure how to begin a running program (or perhaps misguided by well-meaning friends, coaches or running store employees), or who feel discouraged almost immediately due to the appearance of new aches and pains.
Chi Running offers solutions to both types of runners, as well as those in between, by providing them with the means to start or return to running as an injury-free and pain-free form of exercise. Many of these runners come to our online forum and ask how to eliminate and prevent certain typical aches and pains commonly associated with running. In most cases, we find these are repetitive stress or overuse injuries that are caused by some aspect of the runner’s form that causes a body part to move in a way in which it was not designed to be used. By mindfully applying ChiRunning focuses to running technique, runners can not only find relief but learn to avoid the recurrence of these nagging problems.
Running involves a lot of moving parts: feet, ankles, calves, shins, knees, IT band, hamstrings, quad muscles, hips, back and core. And that’s just the lower half of the body. You don’t need to use your muscles for propulsion when you apply Chi Running principals, but these parts all still need to move smoothly as you run. When you take a Chi Running class, you learn about posture, lean and relaxed lower legs, and that these three are the pillars of Chi Running technique. These are also the pillars of injury prevention in the Chi Running technique, because how you hold your body and how your foot lands is extremely important in reducing or eliminating the source of pain. Let’s examine how proper application of these form focuses can help eliminate some common injuries.
Lower Leg Some of the more common complaints associated with the lower leg are plantar fasciitis, Achilles pain, shin splints, calf strains, and runner’s knee. Though the specific causes for each may vary, they almost always have their root cause in how the foot makes contact with the ground. Flip through nearly any running shoe catalog or website and you’ll see the classic photograph of a runner about to land on her heel. The front leg is straight and the foot is well out in front of the body, and if the runner is coming toward the camera you can see the treads of her shoes.
Landing on the heel with the toes pointed up creates a brake that the body then has to push over with each step. That takes muscle strength. Additionally, in order to get the toes pointed up, the muscles of the front of the lower leg have to be contracted and the calf muscles fully stretched out. Because the energy from the ground must go somewhere, it will travel up the leg looking for a place to be absorbed, and those places will often be the bottom of the foot, the shins, or the knee, which is far more effective as a hinge than a shock absorber. See the Chi Running Library article entitled The Whole Story on Shin Splints for more information on how heel striking can cause shin splints.
To avoid these pitfalls, focus carefully on where your foot lands. Keep your stride short so that your foot does not travel out in front of you, but can land either directly under or even slightly behind your center of gravity. Your core must be engaged to do this, or your feet will try to reach forward and pull you along. You can have a friend watch you run and tell you if they can see the bottoms of your feet as you run toward them. If you run in sand you can instantly tell whether your heel is landing first if you are leaving a nice flat footprint. Also, be very mindful of which direction your feet are pointing as you run. Many runners’ feet point outward away from the body which causes the foot to roll excessively inward while on the ground. This creates stress and pain in the shins, as well as the knee. Keep your toes pointed in the same direction as your body is moving.
Upper Leg This includes the hips and back as well as the hamstrings, quads, and IT band, the strong connective tissue that runs down the side of your leg from hip to just below the knee. Common complaints are tight hamstrings, tight IT band, soreness in the lower back, and hip flexor pain. Not surprisingly, all of these can be greatly relieved and even eliminated by keeping your pelvis level (which engages your core) and keeping your stride short so that you land midfoot.
One of the most important things taught in Chi Running is leveling the pelvis, because that is how we engage the deep muscles of the abdomen and create a strong core, around which everything else can flow freely. An engaged core is the cornerstone of Chi unning, because it allows your body to be supported by its structure rather than muscles. Add to this a lean, which allows you to use gravity to draw you forward. When gravity does the work, you do not need to use your hamstrings to pull you forward. An engaged core takes pressure off your lower back, keeps your hips from rocking side to side, and keeps your upper body properly aligned with your lower body.
Finally, learn how to body sense the source of your discomfort and how to discern whether to continue or not when you feel something is not quite right. Ask yourself if there is a form correction you can do to make the soreness go away. Check in with your posture to make sure it is stable, and focus on relaxing the part that hurts. Learn also when to stop for the day, and when to seek medical attention if needed. Generally, a soreness that does not go away after warm-up, or pain that persists for several days despite your best efforts to correct it, should be followed up by someone trained in caring for sports injuries. By carefully and mindfully applying Chi Running focuses for posture and stride, you can drastically reduce or eliminate the potential pain and injury commonly associated with running, and open the door to an valuable component of a healthy, active lifestyle.