By Michael David, DPM
With the crisp air and beautiful colors, it’s no secret that autumn is a great time of year for running outside. But, if you’re not careful, fall is also a season that’s conducive to running injuries. We want you to stay healthy and continue to love what you do, so here are some tips for preventing common foot and ankle injuries this season—and beyond.
1. Never forget to warm up
Going from sitting all day (or sleeping all night) straight to running can force your body to try to keep up and will exhaust you faster. Before heading out for a run, make sure you warm up. Start with some movement, like walking, jogging slowly, or doing dynamic stretches, such as leg swings and torso twists. This will help your body ease into your workout and adjust from an inactive to an active state. Note that, as the temperatures drop, your body may need more time to warm up than it did in the summer.
A common mistake is to do static stretches, like hamstring and quadriceps stretches, before running. Stretching muscles that aren’t warmed up can strain them. Instead, do static stretches after jogging to loosen up and stay limber. Importantly, don’t force any stretches though bouncing motions, or you may end up pulling a muscle.
2. Strengthen and condition
Avoid doing too much too soon. It’s important to condition your body one day at a time, especially if you’re a beginner. Know that conditioning is a gradual process and every solid workout will strengthen your body, allowing you to push a little harder the next time around. Being excessive can lead to sprains and stress fractures. Build a foundation slowly to improve balance, increase flexibility, and stabilize your joints.
3. Wear the proper footwear
Running can be hard on your body. Having the right shoes is extremely important because they’re the only barrier between your feet and the hard ground. Proper shoes provide the right support for your unique feet. Before shopping for running shoes, contact a podiatrist to learn about the size and shape of your feet. They will help you understand your feet and ensure you have the best expert-fitted shoe available. Just one podiatric examination and shoe recommendation can significantly to reduce the risk of a running injury.
You should replace your shoes as their support wears out. How often you should replace your shoes depends on how often (and how far) you run; however, replacing running shoes around every six months is a good rule of thumb.
The proper shoes will provide the appropriate shock absorption your body needs for support. Exercising is a long-term investment in your health; we recommend viewing your shoes in the same way.
4. Listen to your feet
If you ever feel pain while exercising, know that it’s crucial that you either slow down or stop entirely. You cannot “walk it off.” Continuing to run on the afflicted area will only elevate the pain and make the condition worse. When in pain, take a few days off and allow your body to recuperate. If the pain continues, make an appointment to see one of our highly trained physicians, and they will help you get back on your feet.
5. Be extra attentive
Running outside presents an uncontrollable atmosphere. Whether the roads are slick or your favorite trail is comprised of rolling hills, it’s important to stay alert and watch where you step—especially as the days become shorter. Even running in neighborhoods can lead to a sprain from uneven sidewalks or slippery piles of fallen leaves. Running outside can be far more entertaining and refreshing than running on a treadmill, and we’d never discourage your commitment to personal health and an activity that you love. Just remember that you need to pay careful attention to your surroundings.
Running is a fantastic form of exercise that provides countless health benefits. By following these tips for preventing foot and ankle injuries, we hope that you will enjoy a healthy running habit this autumn and for many more to come. Contact the Foot & Ankle Specialists of West Michigan if you have any questions about preventing or treating common running injuries – we have six convenient locations throughout the region.