How to help prevent running injuries?
The holidays are over and the new year is underway. All that extra eating combined with the enthusiasm of healthy resolutions may set you on the path toward a running regimen for much-needed exercise. One of the most common problems I see in patients who run are injuries associated with increasing pace or mileage too quickly. Doing too much too soon can result in a painful outcome, and there is a safe and unsafe way to increase mileage.
I see it in my practice all the time, particularly with the good intentions of new year fitness. Feeling great after completing the first 5K or challenged by friends or work colleagues to train for a longer charity race, novice runners commonly push forward to increase mileage and speed – ultimately leading them to the orthopedic office – hurt and unable to continue.
Most of my patients’ running injuries are overuse in nature – either running too much or increasing training too quickly. The body is made to adapt gradually to increased stress, and a rapid increase in running mileage inevitably leads to a throbbing joint that quite often requires the runner to stop training for an extended period in an effort to recover.
The 10 percent rule is probably the best known and time-proven guideline for safely increasing running mileage. If the runner is currently averaging about 10 miles a week, increase by 1 mile each week. In 8-10 weeks, the same runner is running 20 miles.
In my experience, slow and steady truly wins the race. Gradually increasing mileage coupled with an appropriate pre- and post-run stretching program will allow increases in distance that keep the runner active and healthy and successfully on the way to a fitness regimen.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of stretching correctly. I frequently talk to my patients about a regular stretching regimen, particularly as they approach middle age and flexibility decreases. Improper stretching is worse than no stretching at all and can lead to injuries. It is through a controlled, relaxed method of stretching that a runner increases flexibility and reduces muscle tension. Stretching after a warm-down period (five minutes of light jogging) at the end of a workout will allow the runner to stretch the muscles just used.
A problem that I frequently see associated with overly aggressive increases in mileage is shin splints. Shin splints are a common exercise-related problem. The term “shin splints” refers to pain along the inner edge of the shinbone (tibia). Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome) is an inflammation of the muscles, tendons and bone tissue around the tibia.
Shin splints typically develop after physical activity and are commonly associated with running. Patients come to the office complaining of sharp pain radiating along the anterior shin. I advise them that simple measures, such as resting, icing and stretching can relieve the pain of shin splints. Maintaining adequate flexibility and taking care not to overdo an exercise routine will help prevent shin splints from returning.
I frequently recommend a running regimen to appropriate patients as an excellent form of conditioning and a great vehicle for stress relief. So, lace up those running shoes and get started. Remember the 10 percent rule, and gradually increase mileage and speed for a healthy athletic outlet and to avoid painful and bothersome orthopedic injuries.
Dr. Gregory Caronis is a board-certified Lake County surgeon with Advocate Medical Group Orthopedics and Advocate Condell Medical Center. A specialist in disorders of the foot and ankle and fracture care, Dr. Caronis sees patients in Lincolnshire and Libertyville.
About the Author
Dr. Gregory Caronis is a board-certified Lake County surgeon with Advocate Medical Group Orthopedics and Advocate Condell Medical Center. A specialist in disorders of the foot and ankle and fracture care, Dr. Caronis sees patients in Gurnee, Lincolnshire and Libertyville.