With summer’s warm weather, many of us are getting outside to exercise, often running. We all know this kind of activity makes you sweat and increases your heart rate—all good effects. But it can also be hard on our knees, hips, ankles, heels and feet. Orthopaedic specialist Dr. Brian Giordano offers advice for runners—both veterans and newbies—as they hit the treadmill, pavement or park path.
Set Realistic Goals
There are no set-in-stone rules for running. It’s most important to know yourself and your background, and have a clear understanding of your objectives. Are you running to lose weight, to lower your cholesterol, to train for a 5K or 10K race or a half marathon? Once you have set your goals and know what it will take to meet them, you can incorporate running into your life as part of a balanced routine. Setting personal expectations can help you reach your goals and make those inevitable minor set-backs easier to hurdle.
If you’re a seasoned runner and exercise year-round, you have some kind of aerobic base. If you try to do high-mileage running, ease your body into it to help avoid overuse injuries.
For new runners, or those who have taken significant time off from running, it is hugely important to be objective and seek the help you need to start off on the right foot, so to speak. Run with a more seasoned partner, who can help you focus on form and maintain reasonable expectations for progress. Consider having a formal running analysis to help iron out mechanical flaws that could, in the long term, impact your success and lower your chance of injury.
Our Aging Bodies
It’s probably not news to you that the years can wreak havoc on our bodies. When we’re young, tendons, muscles, bones and cartridge are strong, flexible and able to withstand a good amount of wear and tear. Your endurance is greater when you’re younger, as is your ability to rebound.
As muscles and tendons age, they fatigue more easily, and they need more time to reheal or regenerate. Very often they aren’t able to withstand a constant pounding. The best advice is the adage: Pay attention to what you’re body is telling you. Pain is a protective signal. Not acknowledging red flags can result in long-term harm to your body.
Where to Run, What to Wear
I’m often asked what the best surface is for safe running. I see a lot of cross-country runners who have hip pain, as their sport involves unpredictable terrain such as jumping over roots or avoiding rocks on a trail. Muscles must fire in a rapid way, and this can cause tendonitis. For joint health, flat, predictable trail running is probably the most beneficial, such as running on pavement, at a track or on the beach. What’s “best,” though? That’s subjective. Everyone must find what works best for them.
Your choice of footwear has a definite impact on injuries, and selecting the best shoe for your foot, your gait, and your exercising routine is important. Seek the advice of orthotics experts. Runners are like fingerprints, each with a unique balance and stride. No one shoe, or exercise routine, or goal, fits all.
Mix It Up
One of the best ways to avoid injury is adopt a well-balanced exercise program that includes total body strengthening, natural body weight exercises, incorporation of cross-training (such as cycling, swimming, or an elliptical trainer), as well as a strong core, hip and trunk strengthening program. Repetition is bad without balance.
Adopting a variety of exercise choices is an ideal alternative for folks who just can’t run anymore. An alternative strategy—for instance, embracing an interval training program—allows same amount of calorie burn but it’s a shorter distance with a higher rate of speed. It builds an aerobic base, and also adds anaerobic base.
In general, redefining expectations keeps your body guessing. Throw some diversity at your body and it forces it to train harder.
Brian D. Giordano, M.D., is an orthopaedic surgeon in the UR Medicine Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation and a faculty member with UR Medicine Sports Medicine.