So often, as runners, we hear about how bad running is for our joints (mostly from our couch potato friends). Even runners, coaches and health professionals promulgate the beliefs of too much running on hard surfaces increase injuries due to the pounding. Well, there are a number of studies out that simply counter the idea of joint damage while running. One interesting study from Stanford found sedentary people to have five times more incidence of disabling leg problems than those who ran. Here’s another interesting point from that study, those who ran 15 miles per week had 60% less joint injuries than those running 5 miles per week or less. In a separate study, there was no link between high arched (more rigid) and flat arched feet and injury-proneness.
Ever heard this? Don’t run too much on hard surfaces (i.e. pavement). Another study found that surface hardness is not linked to the dramatic excess pounding on our legs as previously thought. Exercise Physiologist Owen Anderson states it like this: ‘All running animals coordinate the actions of the muscles, tendons and ligaments in their legs so that the overall leg behaves like a single, mechanical spring during ground contact’.
Though these studies are indeed important and relevant for training/coaching we need to understand several other points NOT specifically addressed in these studies.
First, these studies can be extended to our shoes. Think about it. Shoes create just another surface we are land on. Getting proper fitting shoes is essential for our western-cultured feet. Sudden changes in footwear can indeed encourage injuries. We’ve trained our feet, and lower leg muscles to work in ways unlike being barefoot. They get used to working in certain ways. Another reason why introducing barefoot running is not the smartest idea for us unless it is done extremely slowly and carefully. Even then I would personally recommend it only as a drill once in awhile for very short distances such as running some “strides” on a grassy infield. I do not advocate joining on the band wagon to go barefoot.
Second, even if the actual surface is not indicative of increased incidents of injury, being trained on the terrain on which you intend racing is in fact important. Why? Look back at the quote of Owen Anderson in this newsletter. Muscles, tendons and ligaments do not magically become strong or resistant to injuries. They must be conditioned. As a prime example, I had a runner mention to me how sore they were in different muscles after running trails, which they hadn’t in a long time. I experience the same thing. Therefore, gradually introducing new terrain is important to smart training. And if this is done prudently, then, increased injuries should not be recognized.
Third, an all important caveat: these studies generally have been done on healthy “non-surgerized” joints and so may not be relevant for those of you who have had knee (or other joint) surgeries. More care and even more gradual introduction of different surfaces (notice I don’t specify just HARDER surfaces) are critical in these cases.
I pass along some of the most recent relevant research so that you understand why we do what we do and so you don’t fall victim to myths. And so finally, as I state time and time again: You are an experiment of one. Everyone is individual in their ability to adapt, their propensities for injury and their own psychological make up in what “helps” them run better. This is why coaching is not about a downloaded 16 week program from Runner’s World or Galloway or even RxRunning. It is about learning and knowing yourself (or getting an intuitive and observant coach to help you do this) and how to apply the best information available.