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Successfully Starting To Run

The weather in the northern hemisphere is beginning to warm up and spring turns people's minds to thoughts of fitness and sport. They look out their running shoes from the back of the wardrobe and get out on the road. After all, it's easy to do, it doesn't cost anything and you can't go wrong, can you? However, spring is just the time when all of us, having got lazy and overweight over the winter, overdo things and suffer injuries. Physiotherapists all over the country brace themselves for the surge in strains and sprains which occur at this time of year as our unprepared bodies are put through stresses which are too much for them. The commonest injuries tend to be foot pains, back pain and knee pain.

Commonly people start off in a rush of enthusiasm, not realising that they won't know how much they have overdone things until much later, perhaps the next day. They do far too much initially at too high an intensity or for too long, or try to make too much progress too quickly. The body's tissues have a tolerance to physical stresses and these vary with our age, fitness, health and other factors. If the tolerances are overstepped the tissues will react with pain and injury with overuse syndromes of patellofemoral pain, ilio-tibial band syndrome, tendonitis and bursitis, along with muscle strains and joint sprains. If the stresses are heavy and repetitive then stress fractures can occur as the small foot bones are unable to cope with the degree of stress.

The solution to these problems is to take a graded approach to the initial training or to reduce one of the components such as the duration, intensity or frequency of training. If the problem is already apparent then reducing just one of the components may be enough to improve the situation so that training can recommence or improvement in fitness continues. A common problem with runners is to let small injuries linger without doing anything about them, leading to more difficult treatment problems later. Experiencing a new pain or ache should be a signal there is a problem to be addressed as soon as possible, and if it has not improved or settled within 10 days by treatment, analgesia or activity modification then help should be sought.

A walking and running regime is a very useful technique for a novice runner or someone restarting running who has reason to believe they may have a problem in getting started. I have used this technique very successfully as I got backache quite badly for a couple of weeks after going for only a ten minute run. I then decided not to run for a while until the memory of it faded and then tried the same thing again. No marks for ingenuity there as I got the same back pain again and had to back off for several weeks once more.

On a friend's suggestion I tried a running walking regime and it worked so well that I could run continuously for forty minutes before long, and without back pain. To start off the runner can do one minute's running and then walk for four minutes, repeating the process up to five times. The number of running minutes is increased and the walking ones decreased until the person can do an uninterrupted run.

The usual way of sticking your shoes on and then doing a bit of stretching before you set off for your run may be unwise as stretching before exercise may make injury more likely rather than less. Starting off by walking initially and then walking faster with longer strides can get you warmed up and get blood pumping into the muscles.

Treadmill running is more common in winter and de-skills the runners for the challenges of unevenness and slippery nature of the outside world as well as the cold. Increased flexibility and warmth is required in a situation lacking these elements. A hard surface such as a concrete pavement is the least suitable surface to run on but is commonly chosen, which makes skimping on a shock absorbing pair of running shoes unwise. Getting professional advice and a fitting from someone in a running shop is the likely best investment.

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