Foam Roll to Run More
By Orla Magorrian MISCP M.Sc Sports Medicine CSCS
Chartered Physiotherapist and Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Orla works at Functional
Training Ireland. This multi-disciplinary Dublin practice specialises in the treatment of
running related injuries.
The reality is that every single runner will experience an injury at some stage of their
training, whether it’s a novice runner building up to their first 10K race, or an experienced
runner in training for his or her tenth marathon. Common running injuries fall into two
main categories: Traumatic and Overload.
A traumatic injury is caused when a part of the body is forced suddenly into a direction
it doesn’t naturally move in, and this force results in injury or at worst, a rupture or a
fracture. A common example of this is when a soccer player twists their knee, leading to a
An overload injury is when a certain part of the bodies’ movement chain (your whole leg
is a ‘chain’) comes under too much pressure, becoming inflamed and painful.
Most running injuries are cause by overload as opposed to trauma (unless a runner trips
and falls!) because running is a straight –line activity. This means that running is not a
multidirectional or a stop/start activity, such as a rugby game. However, don’t lose all hope
because the good news is, we’re here to help! By adding simple strength and conditioning
exercises (outlined below) to your training programme, you can help to avoid these
common injuries by building up strength in your key running muscles.
Here is a typical example of a runner, Peter Stafford, who was heading towards serious
injury before he started to incorporate simple strength and conditioning exercises into this
Peter Stafford is a runner who had started to suffer from lower back pain before he
started to attend Functional Training Ireland. Peter is a typical office worker who sits at a
computer all day and goes running after or before work to relieve stress and to keep fit. A
quick assessment using the Functional movement screen (the FMS is a tool used to assess
any physical weaknesses in clients) revealed that Peter had a weak core and weak glutes
(bum muscles). This meant that Peter was using the wrong muscles while he was running
and this was putting pressure on his lower back as his mileage increased.
To begin with, Peter needed to start moving from his hips more and engaging his core and
bum muscles. This involved doing simple strength and conditioning exercises to target his
weak areas such as the Glute Bridge.
These were made more challenging as Peter’s strength increased. After only 3-4 weeks,
Peter noticed that his running movements started to improve and his back pain had
diminished. As a result, Peter was able to train more and thus, he got fitter.
The most common running injuries involve the IlioTibial Band (ITB) and lower leg- Shin
ITB – Knee Pain Q&A
What is the ITB?
The ITB is a collagen strap that starts at the lateral (outside) of your hip and travels down
the outside of the leg before finishing just below the knee joint. Its job is to stabilise the hip
as you offload weight from one foot to the other during running, when your pelvis moves in
a sideways direction.
Why is it prone to injury in runners?
The ITB becomes overloaded if your muscles around the hip don’t stabilise the area as
much as they should when you’re running. The ITB doesn’t have much elasticity in its
tissue and for this reason, it can’t be stretched!
How to avoid it?
The best way to avoid an ITB injury is by building up the strength in the muscles
surrounding the area. Simple strength and conditioning exercises will build up strength in
your hip muscles (glutes) and when these muscles work harder, the pressure is reduced on
the ITB and also on the other surrounding areas, such as the quads and hamstrings. The
more you free these areas up, the less pressure will be on the ITB and this will aid recovery.
How to treat it?
The best way to recover from any overload injury is to offload the pressure from the
damaged area. A great way to do this – to offload the pressure from the damaged area, in
this case the ITB – is to use a foam roller.
Slowly roll over and back 20 times on the area. Make sure you cover/roll the whole muscle.
Be sure to focus on the more painful areas.
Don’t be surprised if it feels quite uncomfortable or even painful, it will ease out over time.
Shin Splints is a general term used to describe the sharp pain experienced at the front of
the lower leg.
As your heels strike the ground when you’re running, it causes forces to travel up the leg
in a vertical line. If a runner has excessive pronation of the foot (where the arch collapses)
it can result in these forces hitting the inside part of the shin bone instead of going up the
centre of the lower leg.
Runners with flat feet are more prone to this, as are runners with poorly functioning hip
stabilisers as this causes the knee to fall inwards. This extra force on the inside border of
the tibia (shin bone) cause the lining of the bone to inflame, and this is extremely painful.
If the inflammation continues to build up, it can cause tiny cracks to form on the surface of
the bone. These cracks lead to stress fractures, which take a long time to heal.
Good running mechanics will help to avoid putting unnecessary stress on different parts of
your body and by doing this, you will avoid injury.