By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
A recent social gathering of runners sounded like a medical convention. Runners compared notes on bursitis, tendonitis and plantar fasciitis. They discussed their use of ibuprofen, aspirin and acetaminophen. They commiserated about overpronation, supination, flat arches and orthotics. Why were these recreational athletes so interested in medicine? The answer is a runner's worst fear and darkest nightmare: a running injury.
A running injury is a condition that prevents running. Spring break in Florida does not qualify as a running injury. A running injury usually results from the breakdown of the body under the stress of training. Dr. Tim Noakes insists that running injuries are not an act of God. Rather, they result from the impact of our environment on our genetics. Our environment includes our training program, our shoes and our diet. Our genetics includes the biomechanics of our body and its ability to train under stress.
Our genetics determines our competitive potential and our susceptibility to injuries. Genetics dictates those variables that we cannot change. These include sex, height, body symmetry and proportion of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle fibers. For example, women are more susceptible to running injuries than men; tall runners take longer strides than short runners; different leg lengths can lead to injuries; runners with a predominance of fast-twitch fibers make faster sprinters. Ultimately, two runners following identical training programs produce different performances, and have different rates of injuries. It is convenient to attribute these differences to genetics.
Since running injuries result from the interaction between our environment and our genetics, it behooves us to adapt the former to the latter. To reduce the risk of injuries, we need to understand their causes:
Training errors: Excessive racing, short recoveries between intense workouts, hard running surfaces, the camber of the road, worn-out shoes and a sudden increase in the intensity or volume of workouts can lead to injuries. Similarly, a change in running form to compensate for minor aches, may lead to more serious hip or back injuries.
Stretching: Running shortens back and rear leg muscles, and hardens tendons. Stretching helps maintains flexibility in soft tissues and protects them from injury. However, incorrect stretching and bouncing can cause muscle and ligament tears.
Accidents: Many runners are injured by accident. A tree root, a pothole, an ice patch, a dog bite or a bee sting may result in injuries that interfere with running.
Cross-training: The benefits of cross-training are numerous. However, big boys fighting over little balls get hurt. Basketball, softball, volleyball, handball, football, soccer and tennis are infamous for causing torn ligaments and sprained joints.
Weightlifting: Strength training can strengthen muscles ignored by running. It protects the bones and the joints that rely on muscle balance. However, when done incorrectly, strength training may lead to a greater imbalance.
Diet and rest: A body in training needs good food, plenty of water and much rest. Runners need grains, vegetables and fruits to replenish minerals and nutrients, not to mention calories. Proper hydration is vital. Finally, rest allows the body to recover. Runners need eight to 10 hours of sleep each day, including naps whenever possible. Poor nutrition, dehydration and fatigue contribute greatly to the body's breakdown.
Despite these simple rules, many runners become injured. A survey by Runner's World magazine showed that half its readers are injured every year. Another study showed that 80 percent of the participants in the New York City Marathon had suffered serious running injuries requiring lengthy layoffs.
So, take it easy, play it safe and run smart.
Kamal Jabbour runs and naps in the hills of Pompey. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.