There is one problem with running: every now and then, something stops you from doing it. It could be a sudden twinge in your knee, a persistent ache in your back, a constant lack of energy – or sometimes just an unexplained loss of motivation. Some of the problems that stop us running resolve themselves over time, but it’s often worth investing a little time, effort and money into having some professional help to get you back on your feet. There are a number of people who can help, often with areas of expertise that cross over, so here’s our whistlestop tour of the most common experts runners need to consult.
Helps with: Muscular aches and pains that develop over time; some acute problems
Find out more: physiosinsport.org
Runners have a bad reputation for getting ourselves injured and the people most often called upon to speed up the healing process are physiotherapists. Physios are trained at degree level, have to be licensed to practise and are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). A physio’s knowledge and expertise is wide-ranging so they’re a good first stop for running- related aches and pains that come on over time, and can also help give advice when you’re new to running to stop you from becoming injured. They’ll usually examine you with a series of tests to see how your muscles are functioning, and can identify areas of weakness and imbalance that might contribute to running problems. Treatment from a physio could include massage, prescribed functional strengthening and stretching exercises, and general advice on lifestyle factors such as posture and workstation arrangement. You can see a physio through the NHS, but as most sports injuries aren’t considered urgent (i.e, they don’t affect your day-to-day quality of life), you could be waiting a long time for an appointment – if you want to get fixed quickly, you can simply make a private appointment.
Helps with: Joint and muscle pain from running
Find out more: osteopathy.org.uk
Another route to dealing with chronic running injuries is to see an osteopath. Like physios, osteopaths have to be licensed to practise. They should be registered with the General Osteopathic Council. Osteopaths diagnose and treat musculoskeletal problems. They’ll listen to symptoms, check movement and function of problem areas, and treat problems by manipulating the spine, joints and muscles. Like physios, they often prescribe exercises to help treat and prevent further injuries, and can give advice on posture to help you stay injury-free in future.
Helps with: Problems with feet or footwear; some running injuries
Find out more: iocp.org.uk
Podiatrists deal with feet and footwear, but can treat and prevent a number of running injuries beyond the foot – for example, knee pain caused by heavy heel striking or shin pain from wearing the wrong shoes. They will often watch you run to see how your foot moves during the gait cycle, and they may perform some movement tests, similar to those you’d undergo with a physio. They can advise on the right kind of running shoes to wear to prevent problems, and sometimes offer orthotics – special insoles for your shoes – to help correct imbalances in your gait.
Helps with: Long-term problems with specific weaknesses; lack of progress; loss of motivation; recurring aches and pains
Find out more: Start at your local running club; find one at britishathletics.org.uk
Running coaches don’t just design training plans and put people through track sessions. They can help your running in a number of ways and, if they can’t solve a problem themselves, can usually point you towards the right expert to help. Coaches can help prevent and treat problems caused by areas of weakness, by giving you functional exercises to do. They can help improve your running form with drills and training sessions, so that you’ll be less likely to pick up injuries and you’ll run faster and more efficiently. They can also help with more general problems such as lack of progress in your fitness or speed, and loss of motivation – they are brilliant at helping you set appropriate running goals and achieve them.
SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST OR MENTAL STRENGTH COACH
Helps with: Race problems that don’t seem related to training; confidence; race tactics
Find out more: bps.org.uk (search the Coaching Psychology Register)
Although you may think of sports psychologists as the preserve of elite athletes, they can help anyone looking to achieve running goals, particularly if you’re pushing yourself to run long events. Some runners attempting their first marathons or ultras find that, even if training goes well, they feel defeated on race day and under- perform. A sports psychologist can help you prepare mental strategies to get through this. If you’re looking to speed up and catch a few more people in races, they can help you toughen up mentally to get the most out of your body, and to be able to race tactically instead of emotionally.
SPORTS NUTRITIONIST OR DIETICIAN
Helps with: Problems with tummy upsets, weight control, lack of energy
Find out more: senr.org.uk
Many runners look to change the way they eat, whether to lose weight or to improve their running performance by fueling up properly, but this is usually a bit of trial and error. Consulting a sports nutritionist even as a one-off experience can be really helpful for striking a balance between eating enough to run, and not overeating or relying on the wrong foods. They can also be really helpful in tackling race- day nutrition, dealing with issues such as ‘runner’s trots’ or losing energy at the end of a race.
Helps with: Sudden or severe pain when running; chest pain; dizziness; serious fatigue
Some problems that come on while or shortly after you run require immediate and more wide-ranging action. Symptoms such as chest pain when you’re running, or dizziness or extreme fatigue should be investigated as running can highlight serious underlying health issues. If you’re new to running and have a family history of high blood pressure or heart problems, particularly if you’re overweight or smoke, then ask for a check-up with your GP before you even start running. They will support your plans but will be able to ensure you take up running safely.
Unfortunately, no health professional can guarantee a quick fix to your running problems. You can improve your chances of a good result by following a few simple steps.
Go sport specific
For many health professionals, runners form only a small part of their client base. The fewer runners they deal with, the less likely they are to be able to resolve your issues – so ask before you book whether they have a special interest in sport and running, or ask for recommendations from local runners or in running shops.
Jot down a few notes before you see your chosen expert. If you have pain, think about where it is specifically and what aggravates it. Give them a ring and ask if you need to bring anything. Most importantly go with a list of symptoms, not a Google diagnosis.
Do your homework
Usually, it will take more than one visit to see results. You’ll often be given some follow-up actions to take at home, so be conscientious and carry them out so that the expert advice you’re given has the best chance of working.