Most of us get aches and pains throughout our daily lives that we ignore or attribute to habits like sitting at our desks too long or carrying around heavy bags.
But those small niggles can escalate into bigger problems when the body encounters greater stresses or strains as part of a new exercise regime, such as training for the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon for example.
I’m due to run the 13-mile course on October 9 but had injured both legs shortly after signing up, leaving me unable to train. Even when the bruises faded I was too worried to in case I did more damage.
So I decided to pay a visit to Pure Sports Medicine, above Tesco in Cabot Place, to see if its team of 27 experts could help.
The clinic offers services from the likes of sports doctors, chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists, strength and conditioning trainers, podiatrists, dieticians, nutritionists and massage therapists. They’ll even fit your bike for you. But what happens when you visit such a place and what can you expect?
Specialist physiotherapist Brad Neal, who is also the clinic’s head of research, greets me in one of the 13 clinical rooms and starts by dispelling my fears that running might cause me to follow in my mother and grandmother’s arthritic footsteps.
“There is not as much hereditary cause for arthritis as people think,” he said. “Osteoarthritis is just a fancy name for aging of the body.
“Lots of people come to see me with knee trouble and are worried they are on the road to osteoarthritis because parents or grandparents have it but nine times out of 10 I can say it is nothing to worry about.”
Then it’s on to my worries over my dodgy knees. After a visual inspection from various angles and pressure applied to my knee caps to test for any tenderness, I’m pronounced fine
Then it’s on to the treadmill for three minutes to assess my running style. I’m extremely nervous – it’s been a long time since I ran for more than the Tube and I’m about to be filmed huffing and puffing.
Miraculously, Brad tells me my form is pretty good, zooming in to point out that my knees are not collapsing in or out.
However, from the side it’s clear I’m slightly over striding, the most common error people make when walking as well as running. The remedy (littler steps) should also inform my training.
“Small increments are also the best way to train,” says Brad. “You can increase the length of your training by a maximum of 20% a week so if you start at 20 minutes you can comfortably add five minutes a week.”
By that calculation by October 9 I should be able to run for 95 minutes, obviously not enough time to do a half marathon in but pretty decent. But Brad advises against overreaching and says a sensible walk run program would be better than trying to be a hero and race the entire 13 miles.
“When people pick a run walk they often run until fatigued and then walk but it’s much better to pick a pattern of training that feels comfortable and tolerable and build on that,” he says.
“So if you only feel comfortable running for five minutes at a time stick to that and just add to the number of rotations you do.”
But before I can head out I need make sure my body is ready, something the clinic’s strength and conditioning coach James Phillips says people often get wrong.
He tells me I need to make sure I’m robust enough to withstand the training loads I’m putting on my body.
“Commonly people will just go and do it and a month in they will be training three times a week and will start to feel niggles,” he says. “There might be an imbalance or lack of strength so other things have had to take over and do the work.”
His job is to try and prevent common running injuries.
“You are not in bad nick,” he tells me as I do one-legged squats so he can see if my hip is hitching or dropping or my knee collapsing to the side.
There is no room for embarrassment as he gets me to lie on my back with one leg in the air and thrust my hips up into a hamstring bridge as he sits there watching me. He is checking both sides are equally strong and I get another tick, and another on the leg press.
“Calf strength is very important for runners,” he says. Sadly this is my worst area. Although both sides are fairly even I can only manage a paltry 11 raises before my lower leg begins to weaken and wobble.
“That could be improved,” says James. “You need to aim to get to 20 reps.”
At the end of the session he hands me a maintenance program to be done three times a week.
“The goal isn’t to get you really strong or lose weight,” he says. “The goal is to get you running and increasing your training.”
I leave feeling armed and ready to do just that.
Pure Sports Medicine physiotherapy sessions cost £97 for an hour. Strength and conditioning is £88. Discounts are available.
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