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5 Tips To Staying Healthy as a Runner

Summer is here and more and more people are out running.  If you look closely, you will see a great deal of variation in HOW people do such a natural, basic activity.  Unless you are watching a group of elite runners, you are likely to see many different trunk positions and movements, arm swings, stride lengths, cadences, and types of foot strike.  Much of this variation can be attributed to one’s anatomy, fitness/weaknesses, joint range of motion (or lack thereof), motor control, and purpose for running/goals.  In some cases, these differences are harmless.  In some, they affect a runners energy “economy” or efficiency.  In more serious cases, they can result in a dreaded nagging running injury.  I hate to say it, but up to 79% of runners are injured in a given year according to a 2007 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine referenced below.

This number is alarming considering the enormous industry that caters to runners and keeping them healthy.  It is hard to sort through all of the good marketing directed at the average runner looking for the right pair of shoes, and it’s even harder to sort through the message board arguments on running websites.  Many runners have their favorite shoes that are promised to prevent injury and maybe even improve performance by matching your foot to the right shoe.  Running shoes are basically broken down into three categories aiming at either cushioning, stability, or motion control based on where your foot falls on the spectrum of flat foot to high arch.  Are certain shoes really better for certain foot types?  Most likely!  BUT—the scientific evidence behind matching a foot-type with one of these categories of running shoes, in an attempt to reduce injury, is lacking.  Knapik and colleagues demonstrated no significant improvement in injury prevention by matching shoe to foot in three large randomized control studies that are cited below.

Yes, there are many opinions out there about how to be a better runner and avoid injury.  Without making this post a call for debate on running style or gear, let’s at least consider some pointers that could potentially help a runner this season.

1. Listen to your body! If you have pain brought on by running, you are being alerted by your body.  This onset of pain could be related to technique, mileage, intensity, footwear, or various other factors.  If ignored, aggravation can turn into injury.

2. Always include adequate dynamic warm-up and cool-down to your runs.

3. Research suggests to avoid mileage increases of >10-20% per week.

4. Many times, pain can be caused by over-striding, which can increase forces passed up through the lower extremity. You should aim to be as light and quiet as possible while running.  Consider shortening your stride and aiming for a foot strike cadence between 170-180 steps/minute.

5. A change in footwear or running style requires a significant reduction in mileage and intensity. Never shock your body.  Gradual exposure to new variables and gradual progression of running volume and intensity are key to staying healthy as a runner.

Running is a form of exercise that is fulfilling to many, but it can also be a source of injury.  If you are a runner, or hope to start, please consider these suggestions and if questions (or the unfortunate injury) arise, please don’t hesitate to contact the OPTI team!

Matt Vetter, PT, CSCS

 

References:

Knapik JJ, Brosch LC, Venuto M, et al. Effect on injuries of assigning shoes based on foot shape in Air Force basic training. Am J Prev Med. 2010; 38: S197– S211. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2009.10.013

Knapik JJ, Swedler DI, Grier TL, et al. Injury reduction effectiveness of selecting running shoes based on plantar shape. J Strength Cond Res. 2009; 23: 685– 697. http://dx.doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181a0fc63

Knapik JJ, Trone DW, Swedler DI, et al. Injury reduction effectiveness of assigning running shoes based on plantar shape in Marine Corps basic training. Am J Sports Med. 2010; 38: 1759– 1767. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0363546510369548

Knapik JJ, Trone DW, Tchandja J, Jones BH. Injury-reduction effectiveness of prescribing running shoes on the basis of foot-arch height: summary of military investigations. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2014; 44: 805– 812. http://dx.doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2014.5342

Camma DamstedErik Thorlund ParnerHenrik SørensenLaurent MalisouxAdam HulmeRasmus Østergaard NielsenThe Association Between Changes in Weekly Running Distance and Running-Related Injury: Preparing for a Half Marathon. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2019;49(4):230-238. Epub December 7, 2018.

van Gent RN, Siem D, van Middelkoop M, van Os AG, Bierma-Zeinstra SM, Koes BW. Incidence and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners: a Systematic Review. Br J Sports Med. 2007; 41: 469– 480; discussion 480. 

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