Q&A: How to Keep Your Joints Strong

If I can’t find soft surfaces to run, what can I do to limit my risk of injury?

As you're training for a race, you may be increasing your weekly mileage. With an increase in activity comes an increase in risk for activity-related injury, and many factors can increase or decrease your risk of running-related injury. Running on harder surfaces is one factor that can increase joint loading, particularly at the ankle and hip joints. When finding a softer running surface is not an option, it is important to reduce your risk of injury in other ways.

Performing an appropriate warm-up and adequate cool-down are two ways to reduce risk for injury. Your warm-up should be similar to your intended workout, so a running program should be preceded by walking or gentle jogging to smoothly transition into higher-level activity.

The cool-down should focus on stretching while the muscles are still active from activity to help reduce strain; a key area to target are the calf muscles to decrease your risk of Achilles tendon injury.

Particularly with hard surfaces, reduced duration and force of contact between your foot and the surface you're training on can help prevent running-related injuries. Increasing your stride rate while decreasing the length of the workout may help alleviate the amount of stress on your body. Supplementing with low-impact cross-training activities such as cycling and swimming will also help you improve overall fitness while eliminating the stress of hard surfaces.

Previous injury occurring within the past year is a prominent risk factor for future activity-related injury. It's imperative to ensure complete recovery from injury prior to resuming your running training program.

Recovery does not only include reduced pain but also increased strength, complete range of motion to the joints above and below area of the injury, and neuromuscular re-education for improved balance, stability, and reaction time. Pain or instability in one area of the body will lead to compensatory movement or increased stress in other areas.

References:

1. Willwacher, S., Fischer, K., & Brüggemann, G. P. (2013, September). SURFACE STIFFNESS AFFECTS JOINT LOADING IN RUNNING. In ISBS-Conference Proceedings Archive (Vol. 1, No. 1).
2. Hobara, H., Sato, T., Sakaguchi, M., Sato, T., & Nakazawa, K. (2012). Step frequency and lower extremity loading during running. International journal of sports medicine, 33(4), 310.

ABOUT THIS CONTRIBUTOR

Lauren Ann Moeller

Lauren Ann Moeller, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Rehabilitation Department. She received her doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Miami (FL). She received her Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Specialist from Hofstra University, where she participated in the women’s college tennis program both as an athlete and a conditioning specialist. Her clinical interests include hip, knee, and lower extremity injuries and post-surgical return to activity.

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