Most running injuries can be traced to poor running form that is, in turn, caused by muscle imbalances. This is the message delivered by three sports medicine and fitness professionals — all runners themselves — who gave a presentation last Monday at the Ashland Family YMCA.

Most running injuries can be traced to poor running form that is, in turn, caused by muscle imbalances. This is the message delivered by three sports medicine and fitness professionals — all runners themselves — who gave a presentation last Monday at the Ashland Family YMCA.

Running as the sole form of exercise tends to strengthen some muscles at the expense of others.

"Most of us have strength imbalances. We're weak, inflexible, and most of us don't have great form," says Dr. Justin Adams. "A lot of it starts in our hips — weak abductors or adductors " and everything else falls apart from there down."

When injury does strike, there are two issues to be addressed.

"One is correcting what caused them to get injured in the first place, and that comes back to the gait, the strength imbalances," says Adams. "The other is whatever is injured, we have to get it healed."

Strength training is an essential ingredient for staying injury-free, says Mike Sotos, strength and fitness coach and owner of Rogue Valley Fitness Training.

"The general theme is building a stronger core, and also hips and legs," says Sotos. "You can say the upper body is important, too. If you have bad posture, that's going to throw off your running form, too."

Stress fractures of the foot or leg bones can be a symptom of a weak core, according to Sotos. He recommends a combination of front and side planks, combined with hip raises, as a way to help prevent this injury initially, and as part of the rehabilitation process.

Weak hips can also lead to iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, a painful condition on the outside of the leg caused by the IT band rubbing over the knee. For this problem, Sotos often suggests the clamshell exercise, which strengthens the gluteal muscles. In this exercise, the runner lies sidewise on the floor with bent knees and repeatedly lifts and lowers the top knee.

Self-assessment of running form is difficult, so Sotos often performs a visual analysis of the running form of his clients to help suggest the appropriate strength-training regimen.

When an injury is identified, it's usually best to cut back on mileage and intensity or even stop running to prevent the problem from worsening, says Ashland chiropractor Kelly Lange.

Lange uses standard chiropractic adjustments to jump start the healing process on some runner patients, but uses a variety of soft tissue techniques, as well. Stretching with the help of a foam roller can also help maintain flexibility and range of motion, she says, while foot exercises can help teach the body to redistribute weight during foot strike. Some of her treatment techniques may be new to runners, as well as their primary care physicians.

For foot injuries in particular, says Lange, "I want people to know there are options beyond surgery and orthotics."

With foot and joint problems, the site of the injury is often not the locus of the real problem.

"In my practice, eight or nine out of 10 knee problems are not really knee problems," says Lange. "It always comes back to the hip musculature."

Problems can be masked or exacerbated by the wrong choice of footwear, or in many cases, by running with no footwear at all.

"If we all ran well, if we all ran with perfect form, we wouldn't need shoes," says Adams. "If you want to run barefoot, ease into it slowly."

Though you'll have to learn to adjust your running form when you're footloose, the same fundamentals apply.

"To prevent injury, you want balanced strength, balanced flexibility and a good gait," says Adams. "All those things go hand in hand."

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Email him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org