Wellness Wednesday: Top 5 Running Questions

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Loudoun County, Va. — As the weather warms up, you’re likely to spend more time outside walking, running, hiking and doing your other favorite outdoor activities. The concept of running seems easy. You put on a pair of sneakers, head outside and begin your journey. However, there are a number of misconceptions and misunderstandings about the sport that I would like to help dispel.

Whether you’re an avid runner, a weekend warrior, a beginner or someone who only runs if you’re being chased, I’ve compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions I’ve been asked about running.

1. Will running cause arthritis? If I’ve been running for years, will I need a knee replacement down the road?

No, running does not increase one’s chance of developing arthritis, which is a degenerative joint disease caused by the wearing down of cartilage that cushions your joints. If you are experiencing knee pain during your runs, it’s more likely caused by poor biomechanics and muscle imbalances, not the sport of running itself.

2. Should I stretch before or after I run?

There are two different types of stretching: dynamic stretching and static stretching. Dynamic stretching means you’re elongating tissues while moving through your available active range of motion to prepare your muscles for activity. This is the best way to warm up before a run. Dynamic stretching increases your muscles’ core temperature and gets your blood pumping by incorporating sports-specific movements that prepare your body for particular actions during your run. It also gets you into competition mode! Additionally, dynamic stretching improves the range of motion around your joints, reducing the chances of injury. Over time, this will improve your performance and maximize your movements due to the increase in the flexibility of your muscles surrounding your joints.

For the longest time, running doctrine stated that static stretching was the proper way to loosen up our muscles prior to running. However, we are now aware of the advantages of dynamic stretching and heavily advocate it as a far more beneficial warm up exercise in order to maximize performance. The effectiveness of your warm up not only affects the likelihood of injury, but it also directly impacts your ability to perform to your maximum ability. As such, dynamic stretching plays a major role in maximizing your performance levels and should be a key part of any warm up prior to a run.

Examples of dynamic stretches include quick steps, high knees, butt kicks, hip circles, split stance calf rocking and wide stance hamstring reaches.

Static stretching is the elongation of muscles during a period of rest. “Without movement,” static stretches help improve overall flexibility of a single muscle or muscle group at one time. As such, static stretching decreases your core temperature and should be performed at a slow pace after a run. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds for gradual, permanent tissue change to avoid a rebounding “rubber band” effect. After a round a static stretching, you will feel “loose” and relaxed. Static stretching should be performed after a run as part of your cool down to prevent muscle tightness and cramping, maintain muscle length and improve your flexibility.

After contracting your muscles during training, don’t forget to stretch thoroughly after every run. When stretching, target your gluteals, hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves to reduce post-run muscle soreness. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and perform each stretch for 3 repetitions. You can also incorporate foam rolling to help reduce lactic acid buildup to reduce post-running muscle fatigue and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

3. Since running is a full-body cardio workout, do I need to strength train?

Absolutely! Although we are using our legs to run, it’s important to incorporate targeted strengthening of the muscles we use to propel us forward. Squats and deadlifts alone aren’t enough. Targeting your hip stabilizing muscles, such as your lateral hip stabilizers and your deep rotator muscles, are key to injury prevention. It’s also a good idea to include core strengthening and upper body strengthening—particularly targeting your postural musculature—so your form remains in tact as you fatigue throughout your run. You want to maintain good running form, posture, and arm swing to avoid compensatory patterns that can lead to injuries down the road.

4. Are barefoot running shoes or minimalist shoes the best for me?

Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all type of shoe that works for everyone. Just like your fingerprints, each person has a unique foot shape and foot-strike pattern of walking and running. For the majority of the general population, barefoot and minimalist shoes do not provide the necessary support your foot needs to be able to support your full body weight and absorb the impact against the ground during a run. The specific interaction between your foot and the ground is influenced by many factors, including footwear, he surface upon which you’re running, your running form, and your speed. Each time you land during a run, your foot hits the ground with a certain amount of force. That force is counteracted by an equal and opposite amount of force applied by the ground surface to your foot (called Ground Reaction Force).

Imagine making a fist and punching a brick wall as hard as you can. That would certainly hurt your hand a lot and likely damage your skin (and possibly break some bones). If you were to wear boxing gloves that are well padded and then strike the brick wall, the boxing gloves will absorb a greater amount of the force from the wall, protecting your hand. The same applies to running shoes and your feet.

Running puts an increased loading rate on your feet and the muscles, ligaments and tendons that help support them. Therefore, it makes more sense to cushion the impact and absorb the continual force applied to your feet with well-supported shoes. A supportive running shoe dissipates the load more evenly and there is less stress applied to your body.

Which running shoes are right for you? I recommend getting fitted by a professional at your local running store who will analyze your unique gait pattern and foot shape to get you into the shoes most appropriate for your specific needs.

Below are my general guidelines for running footwear:

  • The most expensive shoe does NOT necessarily the best quality!
  • Replace your running shoes every 3-4 months (or approximately every 300-400 miles)
  • If running, alternate your shoes every other day to prolong footwear life and reduce breakdown
  • Shoe manufacturers change/alter/update their models at least once a year, so get refitted each time you’re ready to purchase new shoes

Here is a breakdown of the different types of running shoes:

  • Road-running shoes are designed for pavement and occasional forays onto packed surfaces with slight irregularities. They’re light and flexible, made to cushion or stabilize feet during repetitive strides on hard, even surfaces.
  • Trail-running shoes are designed for off-road routes with rocks, mud, roots or other obstacles. They are enhanced with aggressive tread for solid traction and fortified to offer stability, support and underfoot protection. Also great for hiking as alternative to hiking boots.
  • Cross-training shoes are designed for gym or Crossfit workouts or any balance activity in which more contact with the ground is preferred over a thick platform sole.
  • Neutral shoes: They can work for mild pronators, but are best for neutral runners or people who supinate (tent to roll outward). These shoes provide some shock absorption and some medial (arch-side) support.
    • Some super-cushioned shoes provide as much as 50 percent more cushioning than traditional shoes for even greater shock absorption.
  • Stability shoes: Good for runners who exhibit mild to moderate overpronation. They often include a firm “post” to reinforce the arch side of each midsole, an area highly impacted by overpronation.
  • Motion control shoes: Best for runners who exhibit moderate to severe overpronation, they offer features such as stiffer heels or a design built on straighter lasts to counter overpronation.
  • Barefoot shoes: Soles provide the bare minimum in protection from potential hazards on the ground. Many have no cushion in the heel pad and a very thin layer—as little as 3–4mm—of shoe between your skin and the ground.
    • All barefoot shoes feature a “zero drop” from heel to toe. (“Drop” is the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the toe.) This encourages a mid-foot or forefoot strike. Traditional running shoes, by contrast, feature a 10–12mm drop from the heel to the toe and offer more heel cushioning.
  • Minimalist shoes: These feature extremely lightweight construction, little to no arch support and a heel drop of about 4–8mm. They were originally designed to encourage a natural running motion and a midfoot strike, yet still offer cushioning and flex, but most styles fall flat on that promise, leading to compensation and injury.

5. How much should I run each week if I’m increasing my mileage? How do I know how much is too much?

Although this will vary for each individual’s adaptation to increased mileage, physical fitness, and cardiovascular endurance, as a general rule, do not increase your mileage more than 10 percent each week. This allows your joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons to adjust to the increased stress over time. Listen to your body and allow for enough recovery time between your runs. If you’re still sore a few days after you run, you may have delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), your body’s reaction to increased physical activity, has set in and you may have overdone it.

Injuries are common for many runners since running places tremendous strain on the musculoskeletal system. Training errors are the biggest culprit of causing injury secondary to progressing weekly mileage too rapidly, or progressing pace too rapidly during short distance or speed training.

Many runners do not take sufficient time off for recovering from injuries. It’s better to take a little time off for an acute injury, than a lot of time off for a serious, chronic injury. If you experience pain while running, stop. Do NOT push through it. Pain is a sign of injury and injuries need time to heal. Running on an aggravated injury will only put you at a greater risk for a more serious, long-term injury or sideline you with a condition requiring surgery. Remember the 10 percent rule. Do not increase your mileage more than a 10-percent incremental increase per week to avoid overdoing it, allowing your body to accommodate to the additional stress on your joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments as you increase you increase your activity.

Imagine you have a paper cut on your finger. It’s something so small, but it can be very painful. If you keep cutting your finger on an envelope each time you open the mail everyday, the paper cut isn’t going to heal. The same applies to running. Slow, methodical progression of mileage is key. Your body needs time to adapt to the increased stress placed upon it.

If you experience pain during or after a run, take a few days off to rest, especially if your pain worsens during or after running or causes you to alter your gait pattern. Instead of running, substitute lower intensity walking, water aerobics or recumbent cycling. Upon return to running, cut your distance in half. If you can successfully complete half your regular training run, reward yourself the following day with another day of light, low-intensity cardio.

NOTE FROM OUR SPONSOR: Ease yourself back into your running program only if you remain pain-free. If you are still experiencing discomfort, contact a physical therapist at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center to diagnose your injury and help you safely return to your running routine by addressing the source of your pain, tackling any musculoskeletal imbalances and concentrating on rehabilitation. Take action at the first sign of an injury, pay attention to patterns in your training regimen that may be contributing to your pain and address it by getting to the root cause. Call us at 703-450-4300 and we’ll get your back on your feet!

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Loudoun Sports Therapy Center is a premier physical therapy clinic. We offer outpatient orthopedic and sports physical therapy as well as specialty programs.

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