Like all the regulatory systems of the body, the musculoskeletal system is vital for ensuring that your body is holistically healthy. If one component of the musculoskeletal system isn’t working properly, then it can have a knock-on effect on your overall health and well-being. As well as the more obvious tolls which musculoskeletal stresses and strains can take on your physical health, it’s important to consider the subtle tolls in can take on your mental health.
If you’re a keen runner, or someone who is considering taking up running as a means of increasing your overall fitness, then you’re likely to be someone is already very keen to take care of your physical health. But it’s remarkably easy to overlook the musculoskeletal system, and the problems which can arise when doing strenuous exercise. So if you are in the process of setting milestones and goals as you plan your running regime, here are five useful tips for making sure you take care of your musculoskeletal health.
It’s so utterly vital that any running regime contains a good warm up (and, incidentally, a warm-down). When you first start running, you’ll most likely have a surplus of energy, and it will be tempting to expend it immediately as you try to set your running pace. To get the best out of your running, it’s a good idea to ensure that your warm up is as structured as your run.
If you don’t take the time to do the necessary warm-up, then this can quickly take an unnecessary strain on your musculoskeletal system. A good warm up can loosen up your joints, muscles and bones, improve circulation and overall flexibility. The absence of a warm up is more likely to lead to pulled muscle aches and potential joint pain.
Here are some of the most effective warm-ups which are likely to take the strain out of your running regime:
- Gentle walking – this is a great way of getting your body ready for the physical stresses of a full run. The motions that muscles and tendons go through when walking are similar to the ones they will inevitably undergo when running. It also helps to improve blood flow and sends mental signals to your body that your run is about to begin.
- Vary your speed – this, once again, is a great means of preparing your musculoskeletal system for the challenge of a long-distance run. Starting with a very easy jog, gradually accelerate and run faster for about 100 meters before slowly decelerating again.
- Dynamic stretches – static stretches can be bad your musculoskeletal health. On the other hand, dynamic stretches encourage you to once again use the muscles of the legs to better prepare you for your run. Dynamic muscle stretches improve range of motion and include jumping jacks, forward jacks and squats with walkouts.
- Do strengthening exercises
One of the key reasons why people may suffer back pain, or musculoskeletal stresses when running is a lack of core strength. Building your core strength is essential if you want to avoid lower back pain when running. The following exercises are useful for building resilience, and therefore building long-term musculoskeletal strength.
Bicycle crunches helps to strengthen your core, but also help to stretch and strengthen your hip muscles. A bicycle crunch involves drawing one leg out in front of you, then touching the knee of that leg with the opposite elbow. You then repeat the exercise with the other knee/elbow. Three rounds of ten bicycle crunches is a recommended regime prior to a run.
This is a great exercise for strengthening your core and improving overall flexibility and musculoskeletal health. Begin by resting your shin on top of an exercise ball (you’ll need to make sure you have an exercise ball first, of course), and then place your hands on the floor, keeping your arms straight.
You will then need to roll the ball towards your chest, lifting your hips as high as you can and keeping your legs as straight as you can. Then slowly roll the ball back the other way. Repeat this about five times for an optimum workout.
A plank involves putting yourself in a press-up/sit-up position, locking your hands together and placing your weight on your forearms to engage your core. Place your weight on your forearm for 1 minute followed by one minute’s rest. Repeat this several times over.
Pay attention to your diet & sleep patterns
If you’re starting a running regime, then plenty of sleep is a pre-requisite to give your body the time and rest it needs to heal after strenuous exercise. Sleep gives your body, and by extension your muscles, the necessary time to heal. The optimum amount of sleep your body needs is usually 7-9 hours, though if you find yourself needing more when you first get back into strenuous exercise, that’s no bad thing.
In addition, it’s vital that you have at least 48 hours rest between running sessions. Again, this helps to promote healing and ensures that you don’t place your musculoskeletal system under undue stress.
Likewise, a healthy diet is vital for ensuring that your musculoskeletal system gets the necessary nutrients required for a strenuous course of exercise. The optimum diet is ideally one comprised of protein, plenty of grain-based carbohydrates, and of course lots of fruit and vegetables. The healthier your diet is, the less likely you are to incur musculoskeletal injury during the course of your workout.
Work on your posture
Poor posture can be one of the leading causes of musculoskeletal damage during a workout and incorrect posture can mean that you sometimes cause damage to your musculoskeletal system without realising it. There are a number of corrective exercises and steps you can take to ensure that you maintain a healthy posture. Let’s look at a few of them in turn.
Avoiding poor posture when standing – this can be particularly hard to do when you’re standing, as we’ve got other things on our mind. Where you can, keep your feet, hips and shoulders in a straight line. You should also avoid standing in the same position for more than twenty minutes at a time, and ensure that your shoes have plenty of support.
Avoiding poor posture when sitting – sitting with both buttocks on your seat, and that the seat is taking the full weight of your body. Likewise your hips should ideally be at 90 degree angle to your body. If you’re working at a computer often, then the top of your screen should be at eye height, ensuring that you’re not having to crane your neck too much when you’re looking at your computer.
Avoiding poor posture when asleep – your mattress is the most crucial factor in ensuring that your musculoskeletal strength is at its optimum. If your mattress is either too soft or too hard, then you are more likely to suffer from back pain.
Consult the experts
If you want some external help in treating and preventing musculoskeletal injury, then it may be worthwhile seeking out expert help in ensuring that your musculoskeletal system is working at peak efficiency when you are undertaking a rigorous running regime. There are several different therapies and treatments which can help. These include:
A course of osteopathy treatment is advisable to help increase the mobility of joints in the musculoskeletal system and promote healing in the aftermath of injury. Osteopathy uses a combination of techniques, such as massage, articulation and manipulation of the spine; these are designed to promote healing and increase flexibility in the musculoskeletal system.
Deep tissue massage uses manual pressure to relieve muscle tensions and break up adhesions, knots. It can be an effective means of treating and preventing any sports related injuries to the musculoskeletal system. Sports massage is a more specialised form of massage therapy which aims to promote similar outcomes and can help to rehabilitate the musculoskeletal system.
Bodytonic is a London-based osteopathy clinic, also specialising in deep tissue massage, sports massage & a wide range of other physical therapies.