Injuries are, unfortunately, a year round problem. But during the winter we see an uptick in a particular set of injuries. These include muscle strains and ankle/foot sprains.
Muscle strains, such as your common hamstring strain, occur when the muscle is loaded beyond its capacity. Warming up can help to decrease your risk, but too often during the cold dark winter days we want to get into our run as quickly as possible and skip the warm up.
Take the time to warm up with a short light jog plus a few drills, or at least a few drills to get your legs moving through bigger ranges of motion. Personally, I like to warm up with some drills on a cold winter morning— this allows me to stay inside right until I start my run! These drills can include but are not limited to: leg swings forward/backward, leg swings laterally, A skips, B skips, air squats, heel raises, hops, walking lunges, knee hugs, butt kicks.
Ankle sprains are the other injury we see an increase in during the winter months. This may seem obvious– ice and snow increase the risk of twisting your ankle–, but more often than not it happens because of uneven sidewalks or potholes. But why not year ‘round? The potholes are always there! (Sadly) We generally see a lot of runners take a break or go inside to the treadmill during January and early February, and then transition back outside towards the end of February and March. This means the runners haven’t been on their usual routes for about 6 weeks. They’ve been enjoying (maybe a strong word choice…) the smooth predictability of the treadmill. Now they’re back outside and aren’t as aware of the obstacles in their paths. This leads to ankle sprains and other foot injuries, such as cuboid subluxations. (“Cuboid subluxation” sounds intense, but it is a very easy fix by a physical therapist!)
So this year when you step back outside after some time away, pay extra attention to the ground, especially in an urban setting. The last thing you want is a preventable injury just as you’re gearing up for the spring running season!
Cat Fitzgerald PT, DPT, CSCS