Three Running Myths: Debunked!

As the first day of summer came and went last week, running season is officially underway. Whether you are out as a casual runner, a competitive runner, or just starting out, we all have one goal in common… to avoid injury.

There is a lot of information available to runners in magazines, throughout the internet, and even word of mouth. With so much information out there, how does one know what is fact and what is fiction? Today’s blog will debunk 3 common running myths in order to keep you in the know and injury free!

Myth: Running and impact sports will increase my risk for knee arthritis.

Many people are concerned about the impact that running has on the long term health of the lower extremity joints, including arthritis. A study published in JOSPT​ ​this June, looked at the effect of running on arthritis of the knees and hips. They found:

  • 3.5% of recreational runners went on to develop hip or knee arthritis
  • 10.2% of non-runners went on to develop hip or knee arthritis
  • 13.3% of competitive runners went on to develop hip or knee arthritis

What does this mean? Recreational running, defined as running less than 57 miles (92 km) per week, has a protective effect on the joints. Individuals who did not run had a higher percentage of arthritis than recreational runners. In addition to the many health benefits of running, this study allows us to be confident that recreational running will not harm your joint health.

Myth: If my knees hurt, it always means my quads are weak and I should strengthen them

Weak quads can wreak havoc on the knees in many sports, but for many runners with knee pain, there are other things at play. In many recent studies, one of the biggest impairments found in runners with knee pain is weak hip abductors​, more commonly known as “glutes”. Your hip abductors are the muscles that stabilize your pelvis when you stand or jump on one leg- however, running does not directly strengthen these muscles that stabilize us in the lateral and rotational planes.

This can cause an imbalance, as the muscles that allow us to keep running forward (quadriceps) get a much larger amount of training than those muscle that stabilize us (hip abductors). Training your hip abductors with simple exercises when you are not running, may decrease your risk of injury from running.

Check out this post by Mike Reinhold describing the different causes and treatments for knee pain. It is important to be evaluated by your physical therapist before beginning any strengthening program, as there are many causes of knee pain that could be impacting your running experience.

Myth: I should do static stretching before I run in order to warm up my muscles and make them more flexible.

Static stretching is also known as holding a stretch for anywhere from 10 seconds – 1
minute with the goal of lengthening a muscle. When one performs a static stretch, the collagen
bonds of the muscle are essentially ripped apart, loosening the structure which is then able to
heal at an increased length. This tearing causes a local inflammatory event in the muscle, and
temporarily decreases the body’s ability to perform at peak capacity. Therefore, to perform static
stretching and damaging your muscles (even if it is at the microscopic level) before a workout
can be detrimental. If your goal is to increase muscle length, these types of stretches should be
done after ​the workout.

A dynamic warm-up, unlike static stretching, increases blood flow to muscles and wakes
up the nervous system, before a run. A dynamic warm up, including a light jog or gentle jumps
or drills, causes short term muscular and neurological adaptations to improve function prior ​to
the workout. Check out some examples of dynamic warm ups from physical therapist, Chris
Johnson here.

The idea that more flexibility is better does not always apply to runners. It is important to
have enough range in your lower extremities to run, and it is important to have symmetrical
flexibility from side to side, but there is no research to show that extra mobility at a joint can
protect you from injury. Having excessive mobility can be just as detrimental as having restricted
mobility.

For more information on running injury prevention, developing a training program for a race of
any length, or running analysis, please contact Evolve Physical Therapy and Sports
Rehabilitation at 212-438-1596 or use the “contact us” link on the upper right hand corner of
your screen.

Always consult with a medical professional before starting an exercise program.

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