Avoiding Common Winter Running Injuries

By Robert Rinaldi, DPM

Runners have to run to keep highly specialized muscles in shape. Spring training starts right now, in the middle of the deep, dark, cold winter. Too many runners take time off from running in winter, and these same folks increase the possibility of injury when the weather finally turns warmer. Running in winter means having a flexible training schedule or better yet, no schedule at all. Do not try to achieve a mileage goal and totally take speed off your charts. Run comfortably, slowly, and easily a few times a week. That said, running in winter can be hazardous to your muscles, bones, and general health, if each run is not planned carefully. The most common winter running injuries are tendon and muscle tears caused by shivering, and metatarsal stress fractures, stress injury to the tibia, and Achilles tendon tendonitis, all a result of slipping on snow-packed roads.

KEEP YOUR BODY WARM
Cold-weather running means you are exposing yourself to the risk of getting chilled. Try to plan ahead and schedule your run on the days the forecast is for sunshine, and run during the warmest part of the day, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Choose a course that is mostly sunny, avoiding buildings and trees that provide shade and act as a wind tunnel. Shade and wind will cool down muscles rapidly, causing them to shiver and contract. This often is the cause of sudden tendon or muscle tears.

Certainly running in the warmest part of our short cold days makes sense, but the ambient temperature can still be very cold. Avoiding the wind may be impossible, so your clothing must provide ultimate protection. Starting from the ground up, you can choose gear that helps prevent cold from getting in and body warmth from escaping. The ASICS Gel Trabuco GTX are very warm shoes. You may find them too warm to wear inside. Couple these shoes with socks that wick moisture and you have some toasty toes and no worries about cold feet on the long runs.

Keep your legs warm with quality tights. ASICS has manufactured a superior relaxed tight called the Thermopolis, with a brushed inside layer for warmth and a water resistant outer. Wear wind pants over them for extra protection.

Everyone hates the annoying swish sounds that come along with jackets, but miracle materials have all but eliminated that problem. Again, ASICS comes to the rescue with the Micro Stretch Jacket. Easy and comfortable to wear, with a free-moving ergonomic sleeve design, the jacket is made from a windproof material that doesn’t make a lot of noise. Under the jacket, why not consider silk? Silk is warm, comfy, and is an easy-care fabric. Wintersilks, a catalogue/internet company has been around for at least 30 years and has always offered excellent quality at reasonable prices. Try their Spunsilk turtlenecks or moc turtlesneck.

Coupling a jacket and inner layer will keep your core warm but don’t let all the heat escape out of the top of your head. A hat may be your most important piece of winter running clothing equipment. Wool may work best as it will keep you warm when it gets frosty and wet from perspiration. With all the miracle fabrics that have been developed in the last decades, wool still is the only fabric that will retain heat when wet. A small wool cap that is large enough to come down over your ears and onto your neck will keep you warm and prevent core heat from escaping, yet it is small enough to take off and carry if you’re overheating and need to cool down.

TRACTION
Metatarsal stress fractures and stress injury to the tibia occur more frequently in the runner during winter months. The winter runner is also more prone to injury to the Achilles tendon resulting in tendonitis that can last for months. The primary cause of these disabilities is slipping. Running on snow-covered roads is fun, stimulating, and even scenic, but the small, repetitive slip just before toe-off, or propulsive gait phase, will put extra stress on the Achilles, increased pressure on the metatarsals, and greater torque on the tibia.

New Balance, with headquarters in Boston, MA, knows that winter running can be hazardous. They have studied gait and injury extensively and have come up with solutions to help northern runners get through winter. They want you to run, and they also want you to be able to run in the Boston Athletic Association Marathon, this year on April 19. For several years, New Balance made the NB 921, the perfect shoes for Vermont, with small replaceable spikes in its soles and heels. They have replaced the 921 with the MT 910, a great shoe with fantastic grippy treads and a Gore-tex lining to keep you dry and warm. Another good winter running shoe is the Gel Trabuco GTX by ASICS. The tread design is aggressive and certainly adequate for a back-road run, and it also has a Gore-tex lining.

Some runners have had success with traction devices that slip on over your running shoes. There are a variety of products on the market, such as Get-A-Grips, YakTrax, and STABILicers Sport. They work best on snow-packed roads and provide traction that helps prevent slipping during the toe-off phase of the gait.

Winter does not have to be a time off from running. If you plan carefully, training in winter can be exciting, lots of fun, and have you ready for the final long runs before a Spring Marathon.

Robert Rinaldi is a board-certified podiatrist and podiatric surgeon at the Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, VT. He is a fellow and a founding member of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, and a podiatric consultant to the Dartmouth College track and cross-country teams. He is a former nationally ranked long-distance runner, having competed in 25 world-class marathons. You can reach him at Gifford Sports Medicine and Surgery Clinics in Randolph, VT, or at the Sharon Health Clinic in Sharon, VT, 802-728-2490 or 802-763-8000 or at rrinaldi@giffordmed.org.