The best approach to preventing running injuries is to be proactive and not ignore the warning signs of an injury. By taking steps to treat pain in its early stages rather than waiting until you have a full-blown running injury, you can limit your pain and reduce the amount of time you need to take off from running.
Here are some ways you can be proactive in your approach to running injuries:
1. Don't assume you're invincible.
If you run on a regular basis, you're most likely going to get at least one running injury this year. It's better to assume that you will get injured so you'll be more aware when your body is signaling that something is wrong. Runners who think they won't get injured will often ignore injury warning signs, push through pain, and end up making injuries far worse.
2. Use R.I.C.E. treatment.
As soon as you feel something that's not quite right during or after a run, use R.I.C.E (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) self-treatment. Rest is the most important and often most effective of those components. Take a couple of days off from running -- it may be all you need to heal your injury. Ice the area where you're feeling pain for 10-15 minutes every 3-4 hours. Compression limits swelling and can provide minor pain relief. You can wrap the affected area with an Ace bandage (you can do that to hold the ice pack on), but don't make it too tight. Elevate the injured body part -- you can prop it up on pillows while you're resting and icing.
Also see: Video: How to Ice an Injury
3. Have a supply of injury prevention tools.
Having tools at your fingertips means you're more likely to use them. Make sure you have an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas ready in the freezer for after your runs. If you're feeling pain on the bottom of your foot, freeze a water bottle and roll your foot on top of it. Massage tools such as foam rollers, the Stick, or even a tennis ball are also good to have on hand.
4. Be aware that injuries are caused.
Running injuries don't just happen on their own -- there's always a cause. It could be that you're not wearing the right running shoes, you have some muscle weakness or imbalance, you did too much, too soon, or some other reason. If you can figure out why you're experiencing pain and treat the cause, not just the symptoms, you can prevent the injury from coming back.
5. Remember that being injury-free is more important than getting your miles done.
Don't push through a hard workout if you're feeling pain because you think missing a workout means you won't reach your race goal. And don't try to get your weekly mileage done no matter what. I always like to tell runners I coach, "You can't get to the finish line if you don't get to the starting line." Resting when an injury is in its early stages will prevent more time off later. If you push through it, the injury will most likely get worse.
6. Incorporate strength-training into your routine.
7. Get help from professionals.
A doctor or physical therapist can diagnose, treat, and more importantly, help you determine the cause of your injury to prevent a recurrence. If your injury doesn't respond to self-treatment and you don't see any improvement after 7-10 days, make an appointment.
Also see: When to See a Doctor for a Running Injury