Preventing injuries for runners
Spencer Niemann, DPM, a podiatrist board certified in foot surgery as well as rear foot and ankle reconstruction, is on staff at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. His office can be reached at (480) 917-2300.
Question: I’ve never been a runner, but I want to start training for a half-marathon as a fun way to get in shape. What can I do to avoid spraining an ankle or getting hurt?
Answer: Running can be great exercise, but if precautions are not taken, it can also be a source of significant pain.
Over conditioning, particularly among novice runners, can lead to an array of injuries and ailments, including stress fractures (tiny cracks in the bones of the feet, ankles and lower legs), shin splints (pain along the shinbone on the front of the lower leg), Achilles tendinitis (pain in the back of the leg near the heel) and plantar fasciitis (heel pain). Ankle sprains are possible, but they are more commonly associated with trail running.
Adequate stretching is instrumental in creating a pain-free running experience. While overall stretching is important, it is essential that the calf muscles be stretched before and after running. The most powerful muscles that impact the feet, the calf muscles essentially fight against muscles in the front of the leg while running. If the calves are not thoroughly stretched, the muscles in the front of the legs can become inflamed, resulting in shin splints. Tight calves or constant cramping in the calves are signs that more stretching is needed.
If shin splints develop, continue stretching, opt to run on grass and other soft surfaces, or replace running with other forms of exercise such as bicycling and swimming to give the leg muscles time to recover.
Choosing the right running shoe is another way to ensure a pleasant, productive and pain-free running experience. The old adage “you get what you pay for” holds true for running shoes, so invest wisely. Choose a pair that provides comfort, support and stability. Since the tread on shoes wears differently when running versus walking, only wear your running shoes while training.
The concept of barefoot running has made minimalist, low-profile shoes quite popular due to claims of a more natural running motion. However, this shoe trend corresponds with an increase in stress fractures and other running-related injuries. Ultimately, minimalist shoes should be reserved for lighter, more conditioned athletes rather than those who are new to running and are trying to get in shape.
To avoid the potential pitfalls of running, be sure to ease into a routine, stretch adequately and lace up the right running shoes for your level of conditioning.