During the winter months, you may be at more risk of injury if you don’t warm up properly or if you don’t take care when running on slippery surfaces like wet leaves or icy pavements. “If you plan to run outside in winter it’s advisable to warm up for longer, as the time it takes for your body and muscle temperature to increase will be different to when running in warmer weather,” says physiotherapist Stuart Mailer from Kensington Physio & Sports Medicine (kenphysio.com).
“When we warm up, we improve the ability of our muscles to contract,” adds Mailer. “This aids our running speed and technique and also reduces the load and stress on the joints. To run efficiently, we need our muscles to be able to contract well, and for our tissues to slide over each other and our joints to be able to absorb force well. So an extra five minutes spent warming up can help obtain this.”
Winter running can cause more muscle and tendon injuries if we’re not careful. “Many injuries occur due to slipping and through lack of traction, which can cause muscle or tendon problems,” says Mailer. “For example, when running on snow or slippery surfaces, the push-off is slightly altered due to the foot slightly slipping at the toe off during the propulsive phase. This can load up the Achilles tendon or overload the calves, potentially causing Achilles tendinitis (overuse of the Achilles tendon) or other injuries .”
If you’ve already had a joint problem in the past then you may find colder temperatures can affect your joints. “If you’ve had a joint pathology or injury previously then you may feel more stiff in a colder climate,” says Mailer. “Spend more time doing dynamic mobility work to help mobilise your joints before you run. Examples include exercises such as glute flicks or high knee walks.”
If you fall over when you’re running outside, stop running and follow the PRICE principle straight away. This stands for Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate. Apply ice on the affected area to help reduce swelling and elevate the injured limb. Ice the area for seven to 10 minutes, three to five times per day, for the first 72 hours. Apply a compression bandage (an elasticated bandage) on the affected area to minimise the amount of swelling, ideally within 24 to 72 hours from the injury occurring. Compression increases pressure and narrows blood vessels, which prevents excessive bleeding. Make sure the bandage isn’t too tight – a compression bandage is easy to apply and the material provides appropriate pressure without too much restriction. “If you find that you can’t take weight through your limbs then contact a health professional for further advice,” says Mailer.