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Healthy Weight Center

Protect Your Joints When Running

Running long term can help to enhance your overall health, wellness, and fitness. However, running can be hard on your body because of the compressive forces and types of muscle contractions involved, especially if you have a larger frame. Yes, you need to protect your joints, and here are 10 general tips to do exactly that.

1. Take at least one or perhaps two rest days per week. Ideally, this means no impact giving your joints a rest from the pounding forces that running produces. Less experienced runners may need two or thee rest days per week. Remember that you adapt after a workout, and your body will adapt best if you provide it proper rest. If you try to push through this process, an overuse injury becomes much more likely. For competitive runners, She or he who recovers first wins.

2. Perform no more than one or two "key" or high-intensity interval workouts per week. Interval training is a great way to increase your endurance and burn body fat. However, interval work puts more stress on the body, and requires more recovery time. These types of training sessions must be performed carefully and be planned out. Try to schedule your speed work or interval workouts the day prior to a rest or recovery day, and after an easy run day, as this approach will give you the best adaptation (see tip number 1).

3. Train in two- to three-day cycles, with a rest or recovery workout in between cycles. This allows your body to adapt to the stress of training. Some runners will need more rest and less training, especially as intensity increases. A rest or recovery workout is best scheduled after an increase in weekly mileage.

4. Change your running shoes frequently and only use them for running. A good rule of thumb is to change shoes every 350 to 400 miles. You may want to write the date you purchased your shoes in permanent ink on your shoes for reference. Buying new running shoes is not inexpensive, but your insurance deductible for an overuse injury office visit with your physician is likely more. Remember to only use your running shoes for your run training. The midsoles will break down much more rapidly if you are wearing them to other aerobics or strength training classes in your gym, or using them to wear around the house and yard.

5. Consider taking the supplements Chondroitin Sulfate and Glucosamine. This combination of supplements has shown promise in clinical studies, and in control groups of people suffering from knee pain.1 One works as an anti-inflammatory (Chondroitin); the other helps regenerate cartilage (Glucosamine). Many orthopedic surgeons who are recommending these supplements to their patients. This combination of supplements is worth a try if you are having knee pain and have discussed it with your physician

6. Increase your volume of endurance training by less than 10 percent per week. This one is important to avoid many overuse injuries. Increasing your mileage too quickly is a quick route to promote injury. Your body adapts to stress (i.e., training) and builds or gets stronger. If you put too much stress on your muscles or joints, your body can not properly adapt and will break down further instead of getting stronger.

7. Listen to your body. Your body typically gives you an indication that you are about to sustain an overuse injury. This may be in the form of a slight or nagging pain. Stop training, or slow down significantly, at this point and you will more than likely be all right after a bit of rest. If you try to push through the pain, you may end up with a more serious injury. If you are exceptionally tired during a run and your legs feel heavy or flat, take a day off.

8. Periodize your training. Competitive runners who are looking to reduce their race times should periodize their training to maximize their results. Periodization of training refers to training in specific cycles that move you towards a goal (e.g., a race). Your run training moves from the general to the specific and from low intensity to higher intensity as you approach your peak. This means performing your most intense work late in the season near your goal race or peak. Trying to perform intense run workouts year round will ultimately degrade your performance and likely lead to an overuse injury. All elite endurance athletes train in a periodization manner as they prepare for certain key races.

9. Use resistance training exercises to keep your knees strong and stable, prevent muscle imbalances and improve performance. One of the more common overuse injuries is "runner's knee". This injury can be the result of a patella (a.k.a. knee cap) tracking problem, much like a tire that is out of alignment. Maintaining strong quadriceps can help you prevent this condition. If you are an endurance runner you do not need to overwork, or greatly fatigue these muscles with a lot of weight, but light strength work performed correctly can without question help prevent injury.

10. Cross train. Include a variety of activities in your exercise program to minimize the risk of overuse injuries. One of the benefits that multi-sport athletes have over runners is that they are able to perform swim and cycling workouts in between run workouts. These different sport workouts help reduce the stress caused by the pounding of running, but the athlete still receives the aerobic benefit of training. Cross training is good for active recovery, which helps speed the recovery process.

If you use a heart rate monitor, you can stay in the same heart rate zone as your run workout. Swimming, cycling, using the stepper, elliptical trainer, or even hiking are all good examples of cross-training workouts.

Sometimes running can make your body or joints feel run down or ache. By following these ten tips, you should be able to reduce your risk of developing an overuse injury and maximize your training to reach your goals!

References:

1. Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, et al. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 28:1327-1330.

2. Clegg, DO., et al. "Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and the two in combination for painful knee osteoarthritis." New England journal of medicine, v. 354 issue 8, 2006, p. 795-808.

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Last Reviewed: Jan 26, 2010

Steven T Devor, PhD, FACSM Steven T Devor, PhD, FACSM
Associate Professor of Sport & Exercise Sciences and Physiology & Cell Biology
School of PAES
The Ohio State University