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A Happy Runner

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Running is one of the most uniting activities, and also an experience that is intensely individual. Whether it’s a drive for fitness, friendship, freedom, or fierce competitiveness, ask any runner and they’ll have their own specific reason to get up and get out.

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Running is one of the most uniting activities, and also an experience that is intensely individual. Whether it’s a drive for fitness, friendship, freedom, or fierce competitiveness, ask any runner and they’ll have their own specific reason to get up and get out.

It is seemingly simple, but has many health benefits, and promotes the resilience and confidence necessary to overcome difficult situations. The sense of accomplishment that follows a session is the draw that brings people back to the sport day in and day out, or years later. Even myself, as a previously competitive runner, have taken time away from the sport only to be clawed back by that feeling.

Despite these positive aspects, running is often associated with discomfort, so it’s worth asking:

Does running cause injury, or is running just what it takes to uncover the issue?

Running requires a complex balance of mobility, power, endurance, tolerance to load, and technique (yes, there is technique to running). Add in cross-training, appropriate progressions of intensity and duration, and you can begin to realize the variables leading to success, or running-related injury. Physiotherapists can help identify and address these areas individually.
After discussing goals, current activity levels, and your dog’s name, one of the first things a Physiotherapist looks at is your mobility. Simply put, if you don’t have the available range of motion, you are more likely to run into issues. A thorough assessment is helpful to determine where you stand in this regard.

Power and tolerance come next. Many injuries can be attributed to too much, too soon, or a specific deficit. Again, a thorough history and physical assessment by a Physiotherapist can help identify if these are an issue. Studies show that cross-training, or just doing other activities (mine are cross-country skiing, squash, and some general workouts) helps counteract common deficits, while making you faster. As for progressions, running with a pal can help push you a little farther, and having a plan can help keep you on track.

Another important factor is technique and how bouncy you are. If you move up and down a lot, you’ll have a greater risk of injury, specifically stress fractures. If you become less bouncy, you’ll expend energy in the forward direction, rather than wasting it going up and down. Physiotherapists are trained to examine gait, and can help fine-tune a runner’s technique for optimal performance.

You may still be thinking through all of this that running causes arthritis in the knees, or causes bodily pain, but the contrary is actually true. Those that run actually exhibit less osteoarthritis, and less pain compared to those that do not run. The only group of runners that is worse off is world-class athletes. As we can imagine, it’s probably because they need to run to get paid, no matter how they’re feeling.

Cycling back to our original question: is running the cause, or the canary in the coal mine?

All activities have the potential for injury. It’s important to note, however, that running might be what it takes to notice that your ankle is tight, or that something’s going on with your hip, or you actually don’t even have a dog and that you’re more of a cat person. What I’d really like to stress, though, is that running isn’t bad for you. There is evidence that shows it can be a net benefit. There might just be a few things you need to address to keep doing it.

As a final thought, I figured it was worth quoting my previous U of M teammates who said:
A happy runner is a successful runner.

It seems just as relevant today as it was at that time. If you’re not a happy runner, maybe it’s time to speak to a Physiotherapist.

Elliott Cooke is a physiotherapist at and the owner of Up and Running Physiotherapy. You can find Elliott and many other great physiotherapists in the “Find a Physiotherapist” section of our website at www.mbphysio.org.

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