Prevention of Running Injuries

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Even the best sneakers do not prevent all injuries. The choice of running terrain is an equally important factor. The optimum terrain for running is a dirt path or athletic track. These surfaces are softer and absorb some of the impact when the foot contacts the ground.

Cement or asphalt pavement are the worst surfaces. They are hard and inflexible and do not absorb shock during exercise. These surfaces cause the entire force of the foot striking the ground to be transmitted to the joints of the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and lower back.

Running on a beach or on the side of a road also can cause problems because the natural slope of the beach and the crown of the road tilt to one side. This lateral angulation, no matter how slight, causes body weight to be distributed unevenly on the downhill sides of the feet, leading to shin-splints and knee pain. Instability also increases the risk for ankle sprains.

Running on hills should also be avoided. Leaning forward to run uphill can cause pain in the back, the Achilles tendon, and the heel because it causes the muscles and tendons to stretch more than usual.The uphill foot bears extra weight on its medial side (inside), which can cause the arch to flatten, creating foot pain. Leaning backwards to run downhill can cause pain in the back and in the muscles in the front of the leg (the anterior muscle group).

Running Posture

When running, avoid leaning forward or backward and swinging the arms across the chest. This creates twisting in the back and hips, straining muscles and joints. The entire foot should strike the ground almost simultaneously. Landing with all of the body weight on the heel can cause back pain and should be avoided. Although advanced runners land on the balls of the feet, near the toes, the muscles of beginners are not strong enough to support the body weight in this position.

Before You Run...

Before beginning a running or jogging program, it is important to have a complete physical evaluation and get a high-quality pair of sneakers. Important things to consider are proper fit, excellent support, and plenty of cushioning to absorb shock. Replace exercise shoes 2 to 4 times a year so their effectiveness is not compromised by excessive wear.

It's important to stretch for at least 20 minutes before jogging, and to start off slowly and with short distances. Start by alternately walking and jogging.

If pain occurs, stop immediately. If joint pain occurs, especially in the feet or ankles, consult a podiatrist. The pain often can be relieved quickly and easily. Back or knee pain can also be caused by improper functioning of the feet.

Publication Review By: Hai-En Peng, D.P.M.

Published: 31 Dec 1999

Last Modified: 02 Oct 2015