That running is bad for the knees is perhaps the biggest myth keeping Indians off the streets and parks, or, at best, getting them to walk rather than run. Given our increasingly sedentary lives behind computers, with home delivery, indoor games, fast foods and fad diets, research has comprehensively proven that running is, in fact, one of the most important activities in our daily life.
A team of researchers from the department of immunology and rheumatology at Stanford University in southern California recently reported in the Arthritis Research and Therapy journal that adults who run consistently have 25% less musculoskeletal pain and arthritis than non-runners when they get older. Bonnie Bruce, the study author, followed more than 500 runners from a local club (called “ever runners” in the study) and 300 inactive people (“never runners”, but not necessarily sedentary) in their 50s and 60s for 14 years. Dr Bruce and her colleagues found that the “ever runners”, who ran at least six hours a week on average, experienced less joint pain by their 60s and 70s and only 35% of the joggers got arthritis (compared with 43% of non-runners).
Angela Smith, assistant professor of orthopaedics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, was quoted on Bodyandfitness.com: “There is no evidence to prove that running is bad for joints. But, if you already have an injury, running may aggravate it.” S.K.S. Marya, director, orthopaedics, Institute of Joint Surgery, Max Health Care, New Delhi, says: “It is unclear if long-distance running causes the hip and knee joints to deteriorate. The current evidence suggests that a moderate level of running does not increase the risk of osteoarthritis of hip and knee for healthy people. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it might even have some protective effect on the joints. Increased muscle strength and constant motion preserves the biomechanics of the joint.” When asked how running affects the musculoskeletal system, Dr Marya says: “Running increases the mineral density of bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis with age. It has been found that the average bone mineral density in the thigh is 5% higher in runners than their non-running companions, and 8% higher than those who do not exercise at all, making them less susceptible to fracture following trivial falls. Running builds and strengthens muscle tissue, especially in the lower limbs. Increased muscle strength also provides a protective cover to the joints. Some of the causative or aggravating factors for running associative injuries are over-training errors, inadequate flexibility and strength, inappropriate footwear and poor biomechanics.”
It seems like a no-brainer. A recently concluded study in the UK found that running and other moderate activities, which included impact, rather than walking, should be recommended to the general public.
A critical area to focus on is to get an appropriate running shoe for the feet—depending on whether you are flat-footed, high-arched, or neutral-arched. Very often, inappropriate running shoes cause foot pain, which gradually tends to creep up the skeletal system to the ankles, then knees, hips and eventually the lower back. It is important to be aware of these basics and enjoy a healthier life.
This is an often ignored area and you must
• Get proper running shoes
• Replace them post 500-600km of use
• Keep at least two pairs and use them alternately
• Ease into a running regimen gradually. Check out a schedule for walkers to insert some running into their walks, at www.runningandliving.com/Getting_Started.html
• Don’t overdo things in your enthusiasm. Build up mileage 10% a week
You can definitely remain injury-free. I am 47, and I started running 1km at a time at 40. Since then, I have run 23 marathons, and have remained injury-free despite being flat-footed. I never stretch myself, and can run a marathon at a week’s notice.
Common lower leg injuries related to running
• Shin splints: It causes pain and tenderness along the shinbone. Running is one of the most common causes. Repetitive activity leads to inflammation of the lining of the shinbone and sometimes the muscles in the front of the shin, as well.
• Achilles tendonitis: A condition caused by overuse, here the Achilles tendon at the back of the lower leg attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone. Sometimes, runners increase their weekly mileage too quickly, or suddenly add hill training into the schedule. Such wrong practices can cause Achilles tendonitis.
• Plantar fasciitis: This is another overuse injury which affects the sole of the foot. In this condition, the heel pains after a running schedule.
• Stress fracture: It is most common in the shins. Take calcium supplements.
Runners affected by any of these should decrease weekly mileage, cross-train with other types of cardiovascular exercise, stretch the affected area, and consider use of anti-inflammatory medication. Treatment includes “RICE” (rest, ice, compression and elevation).
Rahul S. Verghese is a management consultant and founder of runningandliving.com
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