Get the Most Out of Your Run

TUESDAY July 14, 2009 -- Jogging can be great for your heart, your weight and your mental health.

But running can be tough on the body. All that pounding leaves runners prone to shin splints, stress fractures, pulled muscles, ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis (heel pain), knee problems and issues with their hips and back.

To prevent injuries, make sure you take precautions, including wearing the right shoes, taking it easy if you're feeling sore, and building your speed and intensity over time.

"Symptoms are a great guide in running," Dr. Judith F. Baumhauer, of the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York, said in a news release from the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. "Common sense is a good barometer of when something is wrong and professional help is needed."

The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society offers these tips on getting your running up to speed safely:

Go shoe shopping.

  • Running barefoot on the sand may sound great, but you should always wear shoes when jogging, Baumhauer said. Sneakers made for running protect the foot and ankle from rolling and provide well-cushioned arch support.
  • For extra cushioning, buy a soft, over-the-counter insert. A metatarsal pad can alleviate toe joint pain or a neuroma, which is a painful swelling of a nerve. "The length of the insert can be either three-quarter or full-length," Baumhauer said. "I recommend full-length for running as I think the ledge on the three-quarter length ones can be uncomfortable.
  • Since running demands a lot of your feet, pay attention to fit and make sure your toes don't rub against the toe box. And though just about everyone is trying to save a few dollars here and there, after about 400 miles, shoes wear out. Invest in a new pair.
  • Everyone's feet, from the length to the width to the arch, are a bit different. So are brands. Choose a pair of running shoes that feel comfortable to your foot.

Before hitting the pavement or the trails, stretch.

  • Loosen up the calf and thigh muscles, otherwise known as a runners' stretch. Also stretch the hamstrings, often the site of runner's injuries.
  • To warm up, start by walking and then progress to a slow jog, building speed and intensity as you go. Don't forget to stretch again after you run.

Running surface matters.

  • Try to run on a surface that is softer than pavement, such as a running track. If you've just starting running or are returning to it after not running for a while, the smooth, flat track surface will make it easier to avoid tripping over irregular roots, rocks or inclines that can cause sprains.
  • Work up to hills or off-road running. Running up hills puts added stress on the Achilles tendon, which is commonly injured in runners, while running downhill puts more pressure on the knees, hips and back.
  • A track is better than a treadmill. Treadmills can lead to repetitive stress injuries because runners don't vary their stride.

Pace yourself.

  • Begin your sessions with a slow walk progressing to a slow jog before picking up speed, especially in the early stages of training.
  • Beginners or those just getting back into running should take a day off between runs, to allow muscles to rest, recover and heal. This is especially true if you're feeling sore.

Watch your technique.

  • To avoid injury, try to have your feet land just beneath your hips. Avoid over-striding.
  • Pay attention to your posture. Keep your shoulders back and your hands lightly cupped. Clenching your fists can cause tension in your shoulders and arms.
  • Hold your elbows close to the body at a 90-degree angle for the greatest upper body efficiency.

And finally, make sure you're getting enough vitamin D and calcium. "A deficit in these areas can increase your risks for stress fractures due to the increased load on the foot with running," Baumhauer said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on preventing running injuries.

Posted: July 2009


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