Many people, myself included, have a love/hate relationship with running. On the one hand, running allows for a high caloric burn within a short amount of time, meaning it’s one of the most efficient options for exercise. It also improves your cardiac strength and output, and it can improve your respiratory function.
All in all, running is an excellent use of your time and energy, whether you’re an athlete or just trying to stay healthy.
On the other hand, the force that running places on your spine, hips, knees and ankles can cause stress on your articular joint surfaces. This is why many people experience joint pain, especially in the knees, after running. In moderation, stress across the joints can actually be helpful, but it is hard to define “moderation” for each individual. The right amount of stress on your joints might be different than the right amount of stress on my joints.
However, with good muscular strength and joint flexibility, all sports are safer. Running is no different. There are a few things you can do to help keep your body healthy and happy, so you can keep enjoying (or at least tolerating) your runs.
When was the last time you took the time to properly stretch before and after a run?
Pre-work out and post-work out stretching helps protect you from acute (sudden) and chronic (ongoing or gradual) injuries. Acute running injuries can include muscular tears and stress fractures. Chronic running injuries include inflammatory microtears of muscles and tendons such as IT band tendonitis and plantar fasciitis.
Try a combination of stretches and yoga holds to engage each major muscle group. These stretches are a good starting point:
Downward dog pose
Hip flexor stretch
Gastric soleus stretch
Rolling your plantar fascia
Remember, these are great warm-ups but also can be used as cool-down moves after your run. Also, you may want to give these knee strengthening exercises a try.
Wear the right shoes.
Proper footwear is essential to safe running habits. Make sure your running shoes are in good shape, fit your feet properly and provide adequate support for all areas of your feet.
Listen to your body.
When you are exercising regularly, it’s important to pay attention to your body. Know when to rest and take a break. Every person’s body is different, and it’s up to you to figure out the language of your body. Powering through when your body is telling you to rest can result in improper running form and possibly lead to injury.
Know the difference between injury and soreness.
The body usually will try to communicate injury versus soreness but telling the difference can be a challenge. Pain due to an injury will usually result in difficulty bearing weight. This type of symptom should be screened by a physician more urgently.
For soreness after running, massaging the sore muscles, ice, heat and over the counter medications can all help decrease any short-term soreness you feel. However, any pain that persists beyond 48-72 hours should be evaluated by a doctor. Get back to your running game with the right doctors by your side.
How’s your knee health? Take this quiz and find out.
About the author
Khalid Yousuf, MD, MS, is an orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano. He focuses on hip and knee replacements. He utilizes surgical and technological advancements to offer his patients relief from joint pain, including partial knee replacements and anterior hip approach. He received advanced training in joint replacement surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Dr. Yousuf attended medical school at Louisiana State University in New Orleans and completed his orthopedic residency at the University of Oklahoma. In his free time, Dr. Yousuf enjoys spending time with his wife and three daughters. They love cooking, traveling and swimming together.