An Orthopedic Surgeon’s Guide to Preventing Running Injuries

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Love to run? Orthopedic specialist Dr. Popovitz explains how to avoid common knee, foot, and ankle injuries.

Going for a run is a great way to stay fit and clear your mind, but as a high-impact workout, it also carries the risk of injury. More than many other athletes, runners are susceptible to injuries affecting the knees, feet, and ankles, especially when jogging on rough terrain.

Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk. By following these five tips from orthopedic specialist Dr. Popovitz, you can avoid overexertion and prevent debilitating running injuries from slowing you down.

1. WEAR THE RIGHT SHOES.

When you work out, it’s important to choose shoes that don’t pinch your toes or strain the balls of your feet. Wearing ill-fitting or worn-down sneakers can actually lead to plantar fasciitis, a painful injury caused by inflammation of the band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot. If possible, try to protect your feet and ankles further by running on soft surfaces like grass, dirt, or astroturf.

2. BE SURE TO WARM UP AND COOL DOWN.

Proper stretching before and after your run can help prevent common injuries like sprains and strains. To avoid lower leg pain from shin splints — often the result of inflammation in the leg muscles or tendons — devote time to stretching your calf and ankle muscles.

3. GRADUALLY INCREASE THE DISTANCE AND PACE OF YOUR RUNS.

Though you might be impatient to get going, don’t begin your run at full pace. Instead, build up your speed gradually in order to warm up your body. Jumping into a new exercise without proper preparation puts you at risk for stress fractures (overuse injuries caused by small cracks in the bone). It’s also important to slowly increase the length of your run, adding no more than 10% of your usual distance per week.

4. BUILD UP MUSCLE STRENGTH.

To protect your legs from the strain of running, build up strength with workouts that include lifting, squats, and lunges. Yoga can also help improve flexibility and stamina. To give your knees and ankles a rest while still enjoying the benefits of aerobic exercise, try low-impact activities like the elliptical, biking, or swimming. As your muscles grow stronger, they will be less prone to injury and better able to support the surrounding bones, tendons, and ligaments.

5. KNOW WHEN TO REST.

Even with all of these precautions, it’s important not to push yourself too hard. If you feel more than a slight discomfort while running, take a break to avoid overuse injuries. Incorporating days off into your running regimen can also prevent painful conditions like achilles tendonitis (an inflammation of the tendon in your heel) and iliotibial band syndrome (a tightness and swelling of the IT band also known as “runner’s knee”).

TREATMENT FOR RUNNING INJURIES

If you injure yourself while running, it’s important to visit an orthopedic specialist as soon as possible. Symptoms can often be managed with anti-inflammatory medication, icing, and corticosteroid injections. Dr. Popovitz also recommends that you rest and take a break from running until your pain and swelling subside.

Many running injuries can be treated with physical therapy, or in more serious cases, surgery. If surgery is required, you can expect to gradually build up strength during your recovery period before returning to your regular activities.

Dr. Popovitz is a top-rated knee doctor and orthopedic surgeon at New York Bone & Joint Specialists. As an expert in sports medicine, he regularly treats patients from world-class athletes to casual joggers. Schedule a consultation with Dr. Popovitz or one of the other orthopedic experts at New York Bone & Joint today.

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