I get so grumpy and jealous when I see someone running outside. Just in the zone, minding their own business, puffing away, but making me fluoro green with envy.
As any runner knows, nothing compares to that feeling you get when you hit your stride.
About 6 years ago, I had a knee reconstruction. With plenty of rehab and help from my gun physio Nathan, my knee’s returned to near full function and I feel fitter than ever.
But running is off the menu. When my surgeon told me that I could continue to run, as long as I didn’t mind having a knee replacement down the track, I was devastated!
I had to choose: the long-term health of my body and longevity in my job versus the kick I get out of running. Grown-up choices are annoying. I miss running, but I like the idea of being functional more.
So what’s the problem with running? Does it really do us any good in the long term?
Running’s one of the best and cheapest exercises we can do for overall fitness. It generates an awesome cardiovascular response, improves aerobic capacity and burns fat. And that runner’s high is real.
Running can actually be beneficial for soft tissues and joints, provided you’re running on a soft surface and don’t have underlying injuries. Recent studies such as this one which looked at 70,000 runners found no evidence linking running to osteoarthritis. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that running may actually slow down the process of joint degeneration.
Here’s the problem. When you run, you’re applying repeated force over an extended period of time, loading and stressing your ankles, knees and hips. Damage one of these joints, and there is a flow-on effect to other parts of your body as you intuitively adjust your biomechanics to compensate for the injury.
Many people have underlying injuries that are aggravated by the repetitive strain of running. Shin splints, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and all varieties of busted knees are common.
For my clients who, like me, have a history of injuries or surgeries, I err on the side of not hurting them and recommend other forms of exercise.
Doing nothing is worse
I’m quick to reinforce with these clients that they’re not completely off the hook: not all exercise is going to hurt them. In fact, we know that a supervised exercise program following physiotherapy is one of the best ways to treat and manage injuries. Load-bearing exercise in particular, for those of us able to do it, is important for improving joint health and bone density and keeping osteoarthritis at bay.
The No.1 risk factor for osteoarthritis
The biggest thing you can do to avoid ending up with osteoarthritis is to keep the extra weight off. Other risk factors for joint degeneration like your genes, age or sex (women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis), you can’t do much about.
Being overweight hits you twice for osteoarthritis: not only does the extra weight add to the load on your hips and knees, fat tissue itself produces inflammatory proteins that can lead to issues in your joints.
Love running? If you just can’t help yourself, here’s how to do it without trashing your body
- Get yourself a decent pair of shoes. This won’t always mean the best looking shoes. Typical problems runners experience like shin splints and plantar fasciitis can be avoided by strapping on the right set of wheels. If you love running, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in these shoes, so make sure they fit really well, offer the support you need and suit your foot type. We recommend Mizunos.
- Sort out your technique. Most recreational runners haven’t had instruction in proper running technique, but still get hooked and start racking up some big mileage. It’s no wonder they get hurt! If you’re serious about upping your running load, it’s a great idea to have a trainer look at and correct your technique. New Image clients: please talk to your trainer about this.
- Running in the training mix, not the sole ingredient. Even the most hardcore, professional runners don’t just run. Balance out your runs with plenty of strength training, intervals in the gym and flexibility and core training like Pilates. Strengthening muscles around joints and keeping your core and lower back in order will reduce the risk of injuries, and up your running performance, too.
- Lose weight first. I hate to bring it up again, but obesity is the biggest risk factor for osteoarthritis. Even though running will help you lose weight, it’s best to get your weight down first with a supervised exercise plan as excess weight will be far more stressful to your joints.
- Stick to soft surfaces. How does running on concrete feel on your body? Not great. Plan to do your runs on soft surfaces like grass or loose dirt. There’s nothing wrong with the treadmill either.
- Watch your training volume. Running hurts so good that it’s easy to get the bug and overdo it. Chat to your trainer so that we can prescribe what’s a reasonable and sustainable amount of running for you to do and how you should fit it in with the rest of you training.