Tips for Healthy Running
Is running really a good exercise?
Running is one of the best cardio exercises you can do to stay healthy. However, it is a high-impact exercise, which can be harder on your joints than other low-impact alternatives. Unsure what a “high-impact” exercise is? In this blog, we’ll explain why running is considered “high-impact” exercise, why it’s not right for everyone, and provide a few low-impact exercise alternatives in case you decide running just isn’t for you.
What are the pros?
So, why exactly is running so good for you? For starters, running is the king of cardio. Every time you run, you decrease your resting heart rate, so your heart doesn’t need to work as hard.
Another great benefit to running is that it costs next to nothing! The only real expense is purchasing a quality pair of running sneakers, which our foot & ankle specialists highly recommend.
“Cardiovascular exercise for just 30 minutes a day can add years to your life. It improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol, and improves your mental wellbeing, lowering stress hormones. Running is one way to accomplish that,” says Dr. Donald Allen, Orthopedic Surgeon and Hip & Knee replacement specialist.
What are the cons?
As a high-impact exercise, running puts a lot of stress on your joints and bones. While the benefits show running can significantly improve your overall quality of life, it can also cause serious stress & injury to the body if done improperly.
In our recent blog, Don’t Be a Weekend Warrior, we explained how not exercising enough and then suddenly increasing exertion could lead to injury. The same thing can happen with running. If running is not part of your regular routine, your body will not be used to the strain you’re putting on it.
However, if you’re one who makes running part of your daily routine, overdoing it could also cause similar injuries. Make sure you know your limits!
Common running-related injuries
- Runner’s knee (patellofemoral syndrome) is damage to the cartilage under the kneecap. This injury occurs when the knee is overused, causing pain when kneeling, squatting, or walking upstairs.
Treatment: Avoid painful activities, apply ice, take anti-inflammatory medications, stretch leg muscles regularly, strengthen quadriceps, hip abductors, and hip extensor muscles, and physical therapy.
- Achilles tendinitis is an injury of the tendon connecting the calf muscle to the heel bone. It is very common in runners and causes heel tenderness and pain.
Treatment: Use appropriate devices such as heel lifts, insoles, or arch supports to help your feet absorb shock. Stretching calf muscles and anti-inflammatory medications are also important to avoid making the injury worse.
- Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome is a painful condition that occurs when connective tissue rubs against the thigh bone. It is often caused by repetitive bending of the knee in physical activities like running, hiking, and biking.
Treatment: Strengthen your hip abductors and hip extensor muscles, apply ice, take anti-inflammatory medications, and massage your lateral (outside) knee. It is also good practice to replace your running shoes every 400 to 600 miles and get fit for shoes at specialty stores for the correct shoe type. Modifying your training schedule may also be necessary.
- Shin splints are pain in the shin and lower leg as a result of repeated contact and shock absorption on a hard surface through a physical activity like running.
Treatment: Rest, decrease mileage, and cross-train with biking or swimming. Apply ice, take anti-inflammatory medications, and strengthen your hip abductors and hip extensors.
- Plantar fasciitis is a stabbing pain near the heel from the inflammation of a band of tissue connecting the heel bone to the toes.
Treatment: Decrease running (cross-train with biking and/or swimming instead), apply ice for 20 minutes two to three times per day, stretch calf muscles, massage arch of the foot, take anti-inflammatory medications, and replace running shoes every 400 to 600 miles, get fit for the correct shoe type, use appropriate devices, such as arch supports, heel cups or customized orthotics.
- Stress fractures, caused by repetitive force and overuse, are small cracks in the bone.
Treatment: proper training, getting fit for the correct shoe type, not running on excessively hard surfaces. A physician should evaluate if you suspect you have a stress fracture during your training.
Is running right for you?
You may ask yourself after reading about these injuries if running is really the right exercise for you. Everyone is different and depending on your body type, your level of daily activity, and your experience running, it could determine whether or not you should be running or doing some other type of exercise to improve your overall quality of life.
If you are not someone who often runs, before you start, you should build up strength in your muscles with weight training. A beginner runner should start with brisk walking, then jogging, and work up to running. It’s also always important to warm up before running and incorporate plenty of slow and sustained stretches into your cool-down routine. This will help reduce the chance of impact injuries when you do introduce running into your routine.
If you decide that running is not for you, there are plenty of low-impact exercises that you can do to get the health benefits you need. Particularly for patients with arthritis, they may be better suited with low impact exercises that can offer the same cardiovascular benefits as running without the risks. Examples include:
- Elliptical machine
At OAH, we specialize in providing a diagnosis, patient education, and physical therapy options to make sure you know the best solution for your body. If you’re someone who’s experienced pain or discomfort in your joints, give us a call to see one of our specialists.