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This year don't run

By Shameem Akthar
January 02, 2015 13:08 IST
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If you, like several others, have been bitten by the marathon bug, we strongly recommend you read this!

There is a sudden spurt towards marathon or goal-oriented running these days.

The joke is that it is often stoked by a mid-life crisis and a desire to shift one’s life towards a more healthy lifestyle.

And while this may be a laudable reason, if your body hasn't been used to running, starting out suddenly can cause some serious injuries.

First, make a checklist of your overall health quotient before choosing running as the mainspring of all things healthy.

You need to check on various aspects of your health -- spinal tone and suppleness, heart strength, joint issues, nutrient profile -- before stressing it with a highly demanding activity such as running which is a strain to all systems unless each is prepared to deal with it.

This may mean improved nutritional uptake, lots of stretching to improve muscle suppleness so they can absorb the stress at the joints, related exercise that complement running and an expert who can monitor your progress minutely.

Running does score more than walking on several fronts -- it burnt more calories, encouraged less eating, better control of waist circumference, controlled hunger hormones, gave a bigger high.

But Shameem Akthar, yogacharya trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, says that running can sometimes cause more problems than it resolves.


1. Runner's knee

This is a broad term that denotes injuries in and around the knee cap and may shift the pain to other areas involved with the stress, all along the leg and up to the back even.

It may happen from bad footwear, not stretching rightly, suddenly upping the intensity of running (by just hopping off at the track and beginning to run at peak intensity instead of slowly increasing it), or overusing the joint (by other related activities like biking, jumping etc).

The simple trick in avoiding, or controlling knee issues, is to have strong muscles that support them.

Working simultaneously on powering the legs will ensure you knees remain healthy.

Yoga standing balancers and pilates are a good way to ensure this.

2. Spinal stress

There is a huge stress that is placed on the spine while running.

Supportive back muscles have to be strong to ensure that there is a shock-absorbing effect relief offered to the spine.

Most stress spots are either the neck or the lower back.

For those who are heavy or tall, the lower back is likely to be most vulnerable if you are a hardcore runner.

Those with a heavy abdomen or postural misalignment are most likely to suffer from severe spinal wear and tear.

The neck stress could be masked as migraines(headaches accompany cervical weakness), while the lower back stress can progressively lead up to disc prolapse.

Since runners learn to maintain stamina by cutting off pain, it is likely that most symptoms would be dismissed till the problem is full-blown and unbearably painful.

Spinal stress is one of the most neglected aspects of misguided running.

Though the problem is not acute in walkers, those who do brisk walking also have to be chary of this issue, especially if they are heavy weight or have a heavy waistline.

3. Hamstring injuries

Hamstrings -- muscles in the thighs -- tend to get injured in regular runners.

It may be particularly true of those with long strides.

This again happens due to the high stress of running and involving all muscle groups along the thighs equally.

When the supporting muscle -- like the glut -- does not measure up, it is likely to pass on the burden to the hamstring, overstraining it to the point of injury.

This may usually happen over a long period of time and mimic other problems since it is very likely to affect the nerves running through the leg, causing confusion while diagnosing it.

The trick would be to create strong gluts through yoga or Pilates to ensure the hamstring is not unduly stretched beyond its capacity.

4. Shin splints

One of the most common complaints of runners, it is a very painful condition of the shins.

Simple mis-steps while running can trigger this -- incorrect type of footwear, subconsciously favoring one leg and therefore stressing it more, running on wrong type of surface or running on a certain type of surface which 'surprises' the body and stresses when it is unprepared for it (for instance, if you only do treadmill and suddenly strike the road for a change).

Some runners do not take pre-and post-running stretches seriously which also shocks or stresses the legs in a negative fashion.

On a walk, most exercisers typically have a slow start before upping the speed, so even in speed-walking the shin is less likely to feel the stress that runners may feel, if things go wrong.

Image used for representational purposes only.

Photograph: Rice and Danielle/Creative Commons

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Shameem Akthar