Anyone can enjoy the mental and physical benefits of running because it’s a cost-free sport with wide availability. Besides some comfortable clothes, a decent pair of running shoes, and an open space, running requires no costly equipment like other workouts. Though the sport is enjoyed by many, not everyone takes the proper steps to protect their joints and avoid damage or injury.
Ten Ways to Protect Your Joints:
Running is a high-impact sport that can quickly take a toll on your ankles, knees, and hips. Since these joints bear the most weight during a run, there are a few steps you can take to strengthen them so you can keep running for years to come! It all starts with making sure you have a strong foundation.
1.) Correct Unbalanced Gait: Athletic trainers, physical therapists, and other sports medicine professionals can analyze your gait to uncover possible flaws impacting your joints. Things like overstriding or excessive vertical body translation can speed up joint degeneration and cause pain. After a gait analysis, the professional working with you can help retrain your gait and may recommend additional supports (like a type of shoe) to improve the safety of your overall running experience.
2.) Do Joint Stretches and Exercises: Weakness in certain joints can amplify the impact felt in other joints, so it’s critical to engage in some “body maintenance” to keep everything in proper working order. When the hip joints are weak, they tend to transfer more pressure to the knee joints causing injuries and chronic pain. Some common joint strengthening exercises include walking lunges, lateral squats, and stretching with an exercise band. Those, along with other stretches and exercises, can help to keep your joints strong and prepare them for the high impact that comes with running.
3.) Stretching and Strengthening Feet Muscles: Your feet are the very foundation of your body. They keep you balanced, allowing you to exercise, walk, and run. During a run, nineteen intrinsic foot muscles help to keep you stabilized. Improper functioning of any of these muscles could lead to pain, weakness, imbalance, and a greater risk of injury. To keep these muscles strong and functioning, engage in foot stretches and exercises. One beneficial exercise that can even be turned into a game requires you to pick small objects up off the ground with your toes and place them into a container.
4.) Maintain a Healthy Weight: Running is an excellent form of cardio that offers many benefits, including fat burn. For people who may be getting into running after several years of sedentary life, joint pain can be a common problem, especially if the person is overweight. The extra weight puts more strain on the muscles and joints, causing discomfort and pain. Over time, this should get better as the pounds come off, but doing a lower-impact form of cardio may be helpful to protect the joints while you get into the groove of working out. Once you are down to a more comfortable body weight, the stress on your joints is reduced, and running should be safer and easier.
5.) Reduce Inflammation: Reducing inflammation all over your body helps to protect joint health from head to toe. Certain foods like refined sugars and fried foods are known to increase inflammation in the body leading to tissue damage. By cutting these foods out of your diet and increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids, you can naturally decrease inflammation and preserve joint health. Another way to fight against inflammation is the management of stress. Chronic stress is linked to inflammation, so management strategies like yoga, meditation, or another de-stressor activity contribute directly to healthy joints.
6.) Break Up Your Workout: Instead of running daily, if you want to do cardio, switch to something slightly lower-impact for a couple of days out of the week. Alternate between running and another type of cardio, like cycling, which is easier on the knees and other joints. Easing repetitive strain gives your joints the time they need to recover and prepare for another run without being overworked and overused with continuous high impact.
7.) Warm Up and Cool Down: Ease in and out of your workout by properly stretching and warming up your joints. Each joint in your body has a range of motion. When you stretch, you increase the joint’s range of motion, meaning it can extend further without injury. Stretching and doing light exercises before and after a run prevents your joints from getting stiff, reducing the risk of injury, and keeping them healthy.
8.) Do Some Light Weight Training: Strengthening your entire body, including your core, glutes, and hamstrings, will contribute to injury prevention. Light weight training a couple of times weekly will keep the body strong, preventing injury and preserving joint health. Some light strength exercises you can do at home include squats, lunges, and kneeling hip flexors.
9.) Hydrate: No matter who you are or what type of exercise you do, hydration is crucial to enhance performance and stay safe during your workout. Water helps keep your joints lubricated and flexible while ensuring you are hydrated, preventing falls, muscle cramps, and other injuries. Make sure you’re drinking a glass of water before and after your run and staying hydrated in the days leading up to it.
10.) Focus and Keep Running: During a run, it is essential not to let your mind wander. When you focus on your body and its movement during exercise, you can better assess your gait and posture and, most importantly -- watch where you’re going! Attention to these details throughout your run will decrease your chances of injury and increase the protection of your joints. Over time, the more you run with proper joint-saving techniques, the stronger your joints will be. It is a common misconception that running is bad for your joints. Though it is a high-impact sport, the more accurate statement is that improper running techniques contribute to poor joint health.
Running is an exercise that can improve your health, fitness, and overall quality of life. When you take the proper precautions to protect your joints, running serves as an advantage to your joint health rather than a hindrance, making you stronger and safer and allowing you to run for many years.