If you are one of those runners who only goes to see the physio when you are injured then maybe it’s time for a re-think. Especially if you are also one of those runners perpetually stuck in a cycle of boom and bust training.

I know from first-hand experience the huge benefits to running and performance from having a physio as part of your team. I was fortunate to find one of the best early on. I’ve seen Mark Buckingham throughout my running career (for over 20 years now and counting!).

His knowledge and expertise with runners, as well as his treatment and support, has been invaluable. Now as a coach, I apply much of his understanding, techniques, and exercises to my coaching too.

More than just treating injuries

There’s a common misperception that the physios’ only role is to treat injuries. Like most, I also started by only seeing Mark each time I had an injury. I’ve often joked that if he was any good, I wouldn’t have seen him for 20 years. That is, I laughed until he wiped the smile off my face by sticking his elbow in my tight piriformis.

In truth I’m doing him a great disservice. It is because he’s such a great physio that I have seen him for that long. His standard retort that “he wouldn’t have to keep seeing me, if I didn’t keep running” really goes to heart of the matter.

Studies show the vast majority of endurance injuries are over-use injuries. The more you want to improve, the harder you push yourself, the closer you get to your limits, and the greater the risk of injury. Things rarely just go pop. There are almost always early warning signs. It’s easy to ignore these, either through ignorance or wilful denial. We are notoriously bad at prioritising rehab, rest and recovery over a few extra miles.

How many runners complain about their sore achilles/calf/hamstring* in one breath (*delete as applicable). Then in the next, say it’ll be fine as soon as they have “run it off”. If the injury has been caused by too much running, common sense alone tells you that yet more running is unlikely to resolve it.

Prehab & Rehab

Working with a physio doesn’t guarantee you’ll be injury-free. But it does help you spot the warning signs sooner and respond more effectively. A physio with a good understanding of runners will identify any underlying weaknesses and how these may contribute to potential future injuries.

It’s not just about treatment in the physio room or short term resolutions. They’ll set a programme of preventative and rehabilitative exercises to lengthen, strengthen, mobilise and restore functional balance in the running motion. Often in association with an adjusted running programme.

After years of working with Mark I have a far better understanding of my own bio-mechanics. Consequently, I can more knowledgeably assess when to ease back and when to push on. I know that if my foot develops a blister in the arch then it’s probably a sign that my foot is starting to collapse and most likely that my glutes are getting weak too. Then I can address these issues before I get injured again. And most importantly, I can keep running.

Relationship is key

Developing a long-term relationship with a physio means that you can build trust, openness, and honesty. There was no need to recount my running and injury history to Mark each visit. It also meant I could not pull the wool over his eyes. He knew what running I was doing and could tell if I had been working on my preventative programme.

All too often runners enthusiastically tackle their strengthening exercises only until they can get back to running. Then it’s consigned to low priority. Leading back to that boom-bust cycle of training. Regular follow up with your physio, coupled with support from your coach, ensures more sustained benefits. And ultimately, less time of enforced rest.

A long-term relationship works two ways. Rest does help most injuries in the short term. Unfortunately, it can be the default setting of some physios, without addressing the underlying causes. However, Mark knew you can find a balance and would always aim to keep me running, albeit with modifications to my training.

Especially in the build up to a major event when rest is a luxury that I couldn’t always afford. We could negotiate the best strategy from a position of shared knowledge, understanding and goals. That negotiation invariably starting with me suggesting 10 miles, and him, 10 minutes….

Mark at work via Zoom

Lockdown benefits

Fast Running Coach Tom Craggs agrees

“I have worked closely with Mark for many years and his knowledge and experience has provided a foundation for many of the UK’s best athletes. Lockdown has been tough, but one of the benefits has been the ability to jump onto Zoom calls with Mark and athletes I coach.

It’s been an education for me in how with the right words, deep knowledge and a trusting relationship you don’t always have to be with an athlete to make a big impact. Mark’s skill with observation and description is a lesson for many coaches I’d say”

So if you are one of the many runners who find themselves in that boom-bust pattern of injury then maybe it’s time to break the cycle. Physios who understand the athlete are not just for the elite runners. You too can benefit from their knowledge, expertise and input to improve your running.

Remember a physio should be for life not just for injury. You might find that by seeing them more, you end up needing to see them less.

Jo is a former GB marathon runner and now fully qualified British Athletics coach. To find out more about her coaching or see what running she’s still doing you can visit her Running Jo website or follow her on InstagramTwitter or Facebook.

Jo now works closely with Mark Buckingham and Matt Bergin at Performance Team. Performance Team provide expert online physiotherapy to assess, diagnose and prevent persistent injuries and improve running performance with packages of support including video gait analysis and strength and conditioning programme using their unrivalled experience working with all abilities from club athletes to Olympians