Running is one of the most convenient and natural activities for those who want to move vigorously. It is a completely natural movement that was once essential for survival. Now, we live in a world where people run for pleasure or exercise. But for some people running is a painful and laborious activity.
As with any sport – especially one that can be taken to an extreme – runners suffer from myriad injuries and Sensory Motor Amnesia. The most common* running injuries are runner’s knee, achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, shinsplints, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), and hamstring and hip pain. These common injuries are nothing more than a bad case of Sensory Motor Amnesia.
Running when injured elevates the risk of further injury
Many runners continue to run, even when nursing an old injury. Many runners think they can just "run it out" and thereby fix or “work through” the problem. Unfortunately this perspective causes more harm than good.
- Compensation results in inefficient movement and increased muscle tension. When you are injured, your muscles reflexively contract and adapt; they learn to move differently in order to prevent further pain and compensate until the initial injury is healed. Because these muscles - the trunk rotators and waist muscles - are involuntarily contracted, the brain recruits other muscles to help with movement.
- Long-term compensation develops into sensory motor amnesia (SMA). SMA means that the muscles you would normally use to run are no longer efficient, able to be recruited when needed. This affects your performance and comfort while running.
- Running while compensating for an injury does not change "fix" the injury or relax the muscles. It only creates more compensation and deepens your pattern of SMA. In short, you are strengthening your pain.
- In order to end the vicious cycle of SMA and regain efficient movement, you must restore muscle function throughpandiculation and conscious re-patterning of muscles. Only then can you regain your original running form and help to prevent further injury.
Runners often suffer from one-sided injuries
Injury is not the only contributing factor to SMA. A majority of runners in cities and suburbs run on uneven asphalt roads that are graded to allow for water runoff. Running on this type of surface makes it impossible to run equally on the legs and hips. Runners are forced to run with a slight tilt in the hips, with more weight on one leg. This causes the waist muscles on the higher side of the graded road to contract tighter than the other side. It's slight, but if experienced on a daily basis, it contributes to iliotibial band syndrome, psoas pain, and knee pain. This can also occur with track runners.
Sensory Motor Amnesia affects your entire body and your gait
When you are injured or develop SMA in one part of your body due to a habitual running pattern, your SMA affects your entire body. Try this: stand up and walk around. Now imagine you have just stepped on something sharp. You’re limping around with an uneven gait and perhaps you have hiked your hip and tightened your waist on the injured side. Now try running. It’s not easy, nor is it comfortable. Yet those who have suffered an injury do this in some small way every time they run.
SMA, whether it is an injury, surgery, or one-sided movement pattern, creates an imbalance and affects all aspects of your movement: your coordination, your breathing, your gait, and your joint mobility. Excessive muscle tension in the center of your body creates muscle tension in the periphery (legs, knees, shoulders, neck, feet), excess pressure on joints as well as the potential for further injury and continued discomfort.
Runners often have limited hip movement
Limited hip and pelvis movement due to SMA increases the likelihood of developing iliotibial band syndrome, back pain, hip joint pain and hamstring strains. The pelvis is supposed to move gently - up, down, forward and back - to aid the swinging action of the legs while running (or walking). When the center of the body is tense and the hip joints don't move, the action of walking or running will come solely from the hip joints, which tremendous strain on the joints and can create overuse injuries of the hips and hamstrings.. You will run with your hip joints instead of allowing the movement, free and fluid, to come from the whole body.
You can eliminate your SMA by learning Somatic Exercises on your own or with the help of a skilled Somatic Educator. Once you have done this, there are several different "somatic" methods of running that can improve your gait and make your running more efficient. Two of these methods are Pose Method® and ChiRunning®.
Orthotics and "supportive" running shoes reduce the foot's ability to move
The feet are one of the most important sensory organs of the body. When we encase our feet in thick, stiff, or heavily padded shoes our feet can no longer sense the ground, hindering our proprioception and our balance. Our sensory awareness and motor control of the muscles of the foot and lower leg which help us stabilize ourselves will lose their ability to move, often tightening over the years and becoming painful and stiff. Runners tend to "heel strike" when wearing thicker running shoes because their feet cannot sense the ground. This is jarring all the way up the spine and is inefficient for forward motion.
Orthotics, often thought to fix foot problems, actually interfere in the foot’s ability to absorb impact properly and adjust to changes in terrain (as in trail running). Thankfully there is a trend toward more minimalistic running shoes, which encourages – and allows – both the foot and lower leg muscles to become stronger as they move naturally, adjusting to every step.
Five Somatic Exercises for an easy "warm up" before your run:
- Back Lift – for control of the back muscles (from Pain Relief Through Movement)
- Cross Lateral Arch and Curl – for control of the abdominal muscles
- Side Bend – for long, relaxed waist muscles and smooth hip movement
- Steeple Twist – for gentle twisting of the shoulders, spine and hips
- Walking Exercises – for proper mechanics of walking and gentle pelvic rotation
Three Somatic Exercises for a relaxing "cool down" after you run:
- Reach to the Top Shelf – for full body lengthening (from Pain Relief Through Movement)
- Hamstring Pandiculations – for relaxed and coordinated hamstrings (from Pain-Free Athletes)
- Standing Calf Release – for improved control of lower legs and feet (from Pain-Free Athletes)
* According to February 2011 Runner’s Word article “The Big 7 Body Breakdowns”