For many, running is a fitness go-to. It’s an effective full-body workout that you can do almost anywhere, so you don’t have to buy an expensive gym membership or fancy machines just to get started.
Here’s the key: Running can be a great way to keep your body moving, therefore reducing the risk of future muscle or joint injuries.
At F.I.T. Muscle & Joint Clinic, we’ve seen a lot of patients who are afraid of running injuries, leading them to want to turn away from running altogether. Our chiropractors and physical therapists don’t think you should stop running (especially if you love it). Instead, read our guide to help you learn how to run safely to get the most out of your running experience.
Benefits of running
We’re not going to tell you have to start running, but there are a lot of benefits if you want to give it a go. Some experts believe that the human body has evolved to be effective runners. The shape of our hips, length of our legs, and our joint’s ability to absorb shock create the perfect form for running. Because of this, running does wonders for our bodies, both mentally and physically.
Running can reduce depression
There’s a reason why people feel rejuvenated and more positive about life after a run. Studies show that aerobic exercise can be just as an effective treatment for reducing the symptoms of depression as medicine.
Running helps weight management
When combined with a healthy diet, running helps you to manage your weight. If you’re looking to lose weight, running helps to burn calories and create the much-needed calorie deficit to get rid of extra pounds.
Running can strengthen joints
Yes, you heard that correctly. There’s a rumor that running automatically leads to joint issues such as osteoarthritis (OA). Truth is, running can actually help your joints. Swedish researchers found that when compared to people who didn’t exercise or jog, runners had an improved joint biochemistry. We’ll go into more detail about joint health and running later.
Running can extend life expectancy
Who doesn’t want to live a long, healthy life? Recent studies have found that runners tend to live three years longer than non runners, regardless if they were smokers, drinkers, or overweight. In fact, no other form of exercise has the same impact on life expectancy as running.
Is running bad for my joints?
We get this question a lot from our patients, but as we said before, running doesn’t automatically mean your joints will be worse for wear.
Many people fear developing osteoarthritis (OA) later in life due to years of running. Although not accurate, the idea definitely doesn’t come from nowhere.
OA is a common form of arthritis that forms when joint cartilage (the spongy tissue that cushions your joints and absorbs shock) begins to deteriorate and break down. When you think about the act of running — pounding against the ground over and over again — it’s easy to assume that running would speed up the cartilage deterioration process.
But in a multi-year study of almost 75,000 runners, researchers found that running does not increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis. On the contrary, the study found that runners were less at risk for OA compared to people who weren’t active.
The exact reason behind this isn’t 100% clear, but it is true that excess body fat plays a big role in who develops OA. Since runners are more likely to have smaller body fat percentages, this correlation could explain the phenomenon.
Aerobic exercise in general also helps promote joint health. When you work out, cartilage in your hips, knees, and ankles compress and expand, drawing in oxygen and flushing out waste. This keeps the cartilage healthy and reduces the risk of it becoming weak.
If you’re using good form (keep reading to learn more), checking in with your doctor, replacing worn-out shoes, and taking rest breaks, you won’t be more susceptible to developing OA just because you run.
Types of running injuries
Don’t let running injury horror stories deter you from getting started; remember, movement is a good thing. By understanding running injuries, many people can enjoy the benefits of running without hurting themselves.
Common running injuries at a glance:
- Tight iliotibial band (IT band)
- Runner’s knee
- Shin splints
- Plantar fasciitis
Tight IT band
Although not necessarily a running injury, many of our patients complain they have IT band issues that sometimes stem from running. The iliotibial (IT) band is a long piece of connective tissue that runs along the outside of leg from your hip all the way to your shinbone. It helps you have optimal range of motion, including the ability to extend, abduct, and rotate your hip.
While you run, just make sure you keep your back straight instead of hunching so you can avoid straining your IT band.
Runner’s knee is a big reason why people believe running is terrible for your joints. It’s marked by pain in front of the knee below the kneecap. But it’s not caused by the running itself; it’s usually due to some kind of muscle weakness around your hips.
There’s not really a clear idea of what shin splints are. Regardless, many runners have suffered from them at some point in time. Usually shin splints arise when you try to do too much, too fast. When you go out, you’ll be just fine if you take your time and start off slow.
If you’ve noticed pain in your heel, it may be plantar fasciitis. Like many injuries, the pain is commonly a result of an issue elsewhere in the body. Although it can be the foot, it’s often the lower back or hips that are the culprits.
Common running mistakes to avoid
Learning how to run safely is all about knowing what you shouldn’t do before you head out for a run. In doing so, you’ll take the first step toward avoiding injuries.
Wearing old shoes
Sorry to say, but there comes a time when you have to throw those “ol’ reliables” away. Your running shoes are going to accumulate wear and tear the more you run. That means they won’t hold their form or help absorb shock like they used to. We recommend replacing shoes every 300 to 400 miles.
Neglecting your upper body
When running, your upper body is just as important as your lower body. Be careful not to swing your arms from side-to-side or hunch while you’re running. As you get tired, it may be hard to remember to focus on your upper body, but always keep it in the back of your mind.
Taking larger strides may help you move faster, but overstriding for speed will only give you temporary benefits. There’s no point in cutting two minutes off your mile if it could lead to overexertion and shin splints.
Doing too much, too soon
It’s great to have goals, but it’s better to have achievable goals. If you’re new to running, it probably isn’t wise to try to run half a marathon within a month. Trying to do too much, too soon may lead to burnout and serious injury. There are some great running apps available that help you start out moderately to ensure you don’t push yourself too hard!
Skipping the warm up and cool down
Just like any exercise, you need to warm up and cool down every time you run. This helps circulate blood and stretch out your muscles. Plus, stretching after a run can help maximize flexibility.
Avoiding accessory workouts
So you love to run, great! That doesn’t mean you should only be running. In fact, we don't recommend that. Instead you should implement accessory workouts such as resistance training to strengthen your joints and muscles. That’ll only help you get better and stronger as you run.
Not monitoring your heart rate
Your heart rate is crucial to understanding the effectiveness of your running sessions. If you find that you’re getting tired and winded very quickly, it may be because your heart rate is too high. For a moderate workout, you’d want your heart rate to be about 60-70% of your max. You can figure out your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
Proper running form and technique
Now that you know what mistakes to avoid, here are some techniques you should keep in mind as you run. It may even help if you have a friend or family member record you as you run so you can see yourself and what you need to change.
You should always stand tall and hold your torso upright, even when you get tired. Slumping decreases lung capacity, which could make you more out of breath and increases your heart rate.
We understand that it starts getting hard to breathe, but when you notice your breaths becoming shallow, try to breathe more comfortably. Deep, comfortable breaths can help you sync your breathing with your footsteps, allowing yourself to fall into a rhythm that’ll make running easier.
You should bend your arms at a relaxed, 90-degree angle. Let them swing naturally without having your arms cross over your chests. Remember, your arms should move in a forward-and-back motion, not side to side.
Don’t look down as you run. Instead, your eyes should be focused ahead of you. This helps you maintain good posture while avoiding mishaps that could come from not seeing what’s ahead.
Other quick running tips to keep in mind:
- Check with a doctor and/or chiropractor in Kansas City before starting a running routine, especially if you are concerned about your joints.
- If you’re new to running, start by walking. You can switch back and forth as you build your endurance.
- Drink plenty of water before and after you run.
- Allow yourself at least two rest days a week to avoid overtraining and injury.
- Try to run on soft ground rather than concrete. Surfaces such as tracks and asphalt are better on the joints.
- Wear loose clothing so that your body can breathe, and layer up in cold weather.
- Stretch before and after your run.
What to do if you get a running injury
At the end of the day, accidents happen.The best way to move past an injury is to visit a chiropractor or physical therapist.
If you’re in the Kansas City area, F.I.T. Muscle & Joint Clinic offers a wide-range of services so that you can start running safely again. Whether you’re suffering from joint issues and need chiropractic rehabilitation exercises or simply need physical therapy services, our expert team of chiropractors and physical therapists will get you back in tip-top shape.
Contact us today to learn more or schedule an appointment to get started.