The Risks and Rewards of Running

May 6, 2020

By Melisa Abesa PT, DPT, OCS

Spring is officially here! More people are lacing up their running shoes to embrace the nicer weather. Numbers will likely only increase with the recent changes within our community limiting access to gyms and other exercise facilities. Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise, as it requires minimal equipment and boasts multiple health benefits. However, running is also one of the leading causes of musculoskeletal injuries in both adolescents and adults. Statistics show that up to 80% of runners will experience an injury each year.*1* 

The most common running injuries impact the lower body including the knee, foot and ankle, lower leg (calf or shin), hip, and low back. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for upcoming articles discussing the specifics of common injuries that we treat regularly including relevant anatomy, prevention strategies, and treatment/management.

So what are the risks? 

The research supports the high incidence of injury, likely due to a lack of education and preparation to stay healthy. Running places high demands on the body with impacts equivalent to 2-3x bodyweight with every footstrike. Common mistakes include doing too much too soon, ignoring strength training, and improper footwear. The good news is each of these points can easily be addressed!

Doing too much too soon

Running volume and intensity will vary depending on your level of experience. A good rule of thumb is the “10% rule” – don’t increase your weekly volume by more than 10% regardless of day to day breakdown. Also ensure that you include rest days in your training schedule – newer runners should aim for running every other day (at most), while more veteran runners should include at least one rest day/week. 

Ignoring strength training

Running places surprisingly high demands on the lower body. The repetitive movement pattern can also trigger overuse injuries if tissues are under-prepared. Focus on incorporating strength training at least 2-3x/week, especially targeting legs, hips, and core. Emphasize single leg strength as well as stability through the low back and pelvis, which can help with maintaining better running form.

Improper footwear

Make sure shoes are an appropriate fit with adequate room near the toes. Shoes are not a “one size fits all” – people’s anatomy, preference, and running style vary drastically. Also, numerical sizes can be inconsistent across brands and shoe styles. The most important thing is to find the right fit for YOU. Your ideal shoe should be comfortable, offer the appropriate amount of support, and cater to your running style (including mechanics, volume, intensity, and terrain). If you are overwhelmed by the options, go to a specialty store for runners where they can fit you appropriately and answer any questions.  You can also talk with your physical therapist about things to look for specific to your foot and running mechanics. For more information, Runner’s World magazine has a good article.

New to running? Start with walking and slowly add short running intervals. For example, you can walk for 5 minutes to warm up, perform 5 intervals of running for 30 seconds followed by walking for 2 minutes, and then cool down with walking and stretching. Gradually increase your running time, and then decrease your walking intervals. 

The rewards – beyond the endorphins!

So many of us love to run, and the rewards vastly outweigh the risks. Running is an excellent way to meet our recommended activity volume of 150 minutes/week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes/week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, per the American Heart Association. We know that running offers cardiovascular benefits and some strength benefits, especially to the lower extremity. But did you know that running can also improve immunity, boost mood, and increase bone density? All the more reason to hit the road this week!

Unable to Run?

Pain limiting your ability to run? Call or text us today to schedule an appointment! 

Melisa Abesa is a California transplant who has come to love the Pacific Northwest. Since graduating with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California in 2014, she has practiced in the Portland/Salem area. She advocates for patient empowerment, individualized care, and a holistic approach to health and wellness.

As a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy, she enjoys working with a large variety of orthopedic and sports-related conditions. Special interests include running, headache treatments, post-operative care, peripartum care, and adolescent athletes. 

*1* Incidence and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners: a systematic review. van Gent RN, Siem D, van Middelkoop M, van Os AG, Bierma-Zeinstra SM, Koes BW . Br J Sports Med. 2007;41(8):469. 

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