Ask any runner why they like the sport and you often get the same answer. Getting outdoors, clearing your head, feeling strength in each step. Not to mention the health benefits for your heart and overall fitness. Even five to 10 minutes of lower intensity running daily may be enough to extend your longevity.
Here in the U.S., this popular form of aerobic exercise continues to gain momentum, with an estimated 40 million people running regularly.
It is possible, however, that you’re hurting yourself as you strive for better health. From stress fractures to shin splints to chronic knee pain, about 40 to 50 percent of runners experience injuries – and long-distance runners need to be especially vigilant, according to Nolan Klinke, senior exercise specialist at Plus One Health Management Inc. The repetitive motion and jolting force of pounding the pavement can compromise our lower extremities, particularly our joints and bones. This strain over time may ultimately contribute to long-term pain and physical disability in hard-hit areas, such as knees, ankles and hips.
We’ve asked Klinke, as well as fitness expert Marcela Durante from Plus One, for advice on how runners can help avoid injury.
Q. What are your top tips for runners to avoid getting hurt?
A. Be sure to start with a good warm-up. Pace yourself, whether running short or long distances. Avoid too much exertion, especially in hot and humid conditions. Proper hydration is extremely important. It’s also vital to take the time to work on flexibility and mobility during your cool-down and on rest days.
Q. How would you describe proper running technique?
A. Be mindful when you run. Check in with your spine and your body in general. Engage in proper breathing techniques by breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth and pacing the breath to avoid hyperventilation. This will help the muscles receive proper oxygen. Check in with your ankles, knees, thighs, hips, lower back, mid-spine, upper spine, shoulders, arms, hands and head. Make sure that the spine stands tall over the hips, without slouching, and keep the chest open.
Q. Are there any types of shoes or clothing that are best for protecting against injuries?
A. Luckily for us, the running industry has grown so much that there are many brands that support running. Look for clothes that are made of wicking materials, which help draw the moisture off the skin to avoid chafing from sweat. Chafing can also be avoided by applying anti-chafe balms. There are shoes to support runners who underpronate (the heel rolls inward) or overpronate (the heel rolls outward). Some specialty running stores offer gait analyses to help you find the best shoes to improve form and reduce discomfort.
Q. What are the warning signs that tell a runner they are risking injury over time?
A. Don’t believe the “no pain, no gain” hype. If a runner must use a brace or any other form of assistance while running to reduce pain, it may be a sign of a larger issue. You may want to stop activity immediately if you have significant or sharp pain or joint discomfort. Cross-training can help strengthen the lower body and core, which may help you run more efficiently in the long term.
Finally, don't try to diagnose yourself. Check with your doctor if you are injured or in pain.