Essentials of joint-care for runners
In this article I want to cover some of the best ways to look after your joints if you're a runner. Because there are so many points that can be considered I'll discuss them in bullet points, but not in any particular order of importance.
The most important points will vary depending on the runner. For example: what your running goals are; how much you run; if you have any specific areas of weakness; how old you are etc.
Here we go:
- Replace running shoes before they get too worn. The shock absorption capacity of running shoes decreases quite quickly beyond a certain point and you should consider replacing your running shoes after every 200-400 miles.
- Vary your training volume throughout the year. It's not ideal to be running high mileage every week of the year, even if you're planning on running a marathon. Give your joints a rest from the volume and avoid over-training by varying your training methods through-out the year.
- Do a good proportion of training off-road. Ideal surfaces include grass, smooth forest trails etc. Running off-road can also be a better strength work-out for the legs. Running on very rough ground is of course not the ideal.
- Use a joint supplement with as many potentially useful ingredients as possible. My personal favourite is this one. Bear in mind that joint supplements are taken for the long term.
- Make sure you have well-balanced leg strength and flexibility, especially in the legs and hips. Strength and flexibility are sport specific, and getting it right can make a vast difference to theprotection the joints have - stronger and better balanced muscles are essential for keeping joints stable.
- Make sure your knees bend correctly, and your hips are stable. This could be an entire article in it's own right. I'll aim to get a video up here of this soon. Of course, the best, in this case again, is to see a good sports physio to assess you personally.
- Use cooling directly after a run on the joints that have taken the most beating. I tend to do this by gradually turning the shower to cold and then using it on my knees and ankles for 5 minutes or so at the end of a post-run shower. Turn the temperature gradually so as not to get your heart rate elevated again.
- Running regularly on a running track is not ideal for the hips/knee/ankles due to the high volume of running bends - and always in the same direction. There's no reason most of us need to be on a track regularly in any case - interval training can equally be done on grass, road, or in woodland.
- Avoid excessive amounts of running down steep hills. Forces through the knees are high.
- This one seems obvious, but still many people do it: do not keep training through pain. The pain is there for a reason so get it seen to. Rest is usually not the solution. It is almost always the case that the underlying cause of the problem can be actively helped through therapeutic exercises and this can help prevent the problem recurring.
- Warm-up properly before running. This does not include static stretching. The ideal warm-up should get the body ready for running and get all the muscles not just 'warm' but prepared neurologically too - ie get them used to the 'running action'. You can do this with heel riases, brisk walking, and various other drills. Depending on the intensity of the running session, a good warm-up can last anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes.