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Running, excellent exercise, has some injury risks

By David Johnson, M.D.

Running is a popular form of exercise enjoyed by men and women of all ages. Most communities support running enthusiasts by hosting races with distances varying from 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2 miles), half marathons (13.1 miles) and full marathons (26.2 miles).

Running can be an excellent form of exercise for cardiovascular fitness and weight control. It does, however, carry a risk of injury, especially to the lower extremities. One study showed that about one third of all serious runners (those who run at least 25 miles per week) will experience an injury in a given year.

Most injuries can be managed with conservative treatments, including rest,

medications, bracing and physical therapy, and many injuries can be prevented by following several simple guidelines:
  • Be flexible to weather conditions and temperature. Avoid the intense heat and midday sun exposure by training in the cooler times of the day and avoid slippery surfaces caused by rain.
  • Remember to hydrate well, especially in the summer. Six to 12 ounces of fluid can be lost every 20 minutes of running. Replacing these fluids is especially important for runs in excess of 30 minutes. n Consider weighing yourself before and after a run. For every pound lost, drink one pint of fluid.
  • Plan a progressive running program that is appropriate for your fitness level. Plan a warm-up period followed by stretching and finish every run with a few minutes of stretching. Build up your running distances and intensity gradually. I’ll repeat: Build up your running distances and intensity gradually. Many injuries occur from trying to do too much too fast.
  • Use good equipment that is appropriate for your body. For running, this primarily means shoes. We are all different, and no one shoe is perfect for everyone. Some people have high arches and some flat; some have sensitive feet and need cushioning, while some want stability.
Consult with a good running shoe store or visit online shoe suppliers for suggestions on which shoe is best for you. Depending on your body weight and running style (a glider versus a pounder), shoes should be replaced before they appear worn out. Sixty percent of a shoe's shock absorption is lost after as little as 250 miles! Many lower extremity pains can be prevented or treated by replacing your running shoes.

While running carries risk of injury, the rewards it can give in your cardiovascular fitness, weight control, overall sense of wellness and confidence that comes from "being an athlete no matter what your age" makes it a popular form of exercise for many people.