Are you an avid runner and over a period of time have noticed that your knees have become slightly achy or that you're experiencing a dull pain? Or maybe your knees have already suffered an injury from running excessively. Even though running provides tremendous health and cardiovascular fitness benefits, there are several things you should know and practice to run effectively and avoid knee injury. Here are some things you should keep in mind:
1. Strengthen muscles - running relies on balance and strength to perform. Regular resistance training can lower the chance of injury by not only strengthening muscles and bones but also the connective tissues which surround joints. Balance your workout by strengthening the quadriceps, hamstrings, calf and gluteus muscles which will help in turn to support the knees and absorb the shock of impact.
2. Wear the right shoe- Wearing the wrong shoe for running can affect your knees and take a toll on your back. Invest in a good pair of running shoes and make sure you replace them roughly every 300 to 500 miles of running (yes, keep a log). If you're running outdoors, you may need to replace them sooner.
3. Stretching - An important but often neglected activity! What is the proper format for stretching and when should you stretch? Although there has been a lot of debate about when to stretch, for runners, stretching is best performed after your activity. Before the run, walk first for up to 10 minutes to warm up; then start off with a jog and then run. At the end of your run, cool down for about 10 minutes by walking and then spend some time stretching. Include some stretches for your quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.
4. Eat a nutritious diet - A healthy diet can help protect muscle, cartilage, and joints. Carbohydrates are your best source of energy and should make up about 60 % of your total caloric intake. Protein is also necessary for muscle and tissue repair from damage caused by running. Vegetarians should pay extra attention to this and make sure that at least 20% of their caloric intake is from protein. Additionally, healthy fats should make up no more than 20% of total caloric intake. Calcium and Vitamin D are also necessary for bone health. And yes, don't forget adequate hydration- water is best!
5. Foot Placement - If your feet are causing a 'slapping' sound on the treadmill or ground, your foot placement is improper and needs attention. When running, make contact with the ground first with your heel, and then roll toward the ball of the foot, and finally push off with the front of your foot. Even though you are pushing off with maximum force, you should run lightly without your feet making a slapping sound.
6. Cross train - Finally, the repetitive movement of running no matter how cautious you are, is still hard on the knees and joints. It might be difficult to break away from running, initially if that's your favorite sport, but do try to alternate running with other activities. Biking, elliptical and swimming are good options.
Some other things to keep in mind:
Allow enough time for rest and recovery. Add mileage gradually when running, and listen to your body. Sometimes it’s the overuse and over training that sets you up for injury. By following the above, not only will you run safely but enjoy running for many years to come!
Aarti Patel is not a medical professional. This blog is not intended for medical diagnosis or treatment.