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  • Writer's pictureJessica Gradel,DC,MS,L.Ac

Returning to Outdoor Running (Spring Edition)

Spring means that we are getting back to being more active outside and with that I see more Weekend Warrior Injuries. So here are some thoughtful recommendations to avoid injury and self manage getting back to being active outside.

Runners returning back to the trails and roads often come in with increased foot, ankle, knee, and low back pain in the spring.


Well over the winter a lot of us move to running on a treadmill or track which are more forgiving as far as running surfaces go and absorb the impact of each foot fall more than that of say a paved road. Treadmills also don't have pot holes, tree roots, random branches, or require quick lateral movements to avoid say a neighbors dog. The body needs time to redevelop muscles that went unused in the winter as well as tendon strength to be able to adapt to the new running terrain.

How do I avoid injury?

1. Scale back the mileage and intensity initially. You maybe able to run for miles and miles on the treadmill but trail and road running offer more of a challenge so rolling back your workout intensity will help ramp up your ability to keep running outside.

2. Hydration is key. Running indoors in a climate control doesn't put the same hydration demands as running in a bright warm sun. We forget to hydrate when temperatures are mild outside, because we may not be notice the sweat is evaporating. We also don't have a water bottle sitting next to use with in line of sight to remind us to drink. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramps and increased chances injury.

3. Stretching. Active stretching before a cool run in the morning helps get the blood out to the limbs and helps keep the muscles from building up lactic acid. Static stretching at the end of a run helps decrease the tightness and muscle contractures that may have occurred during the run.

4. Avoid Changes in Foot Wear if possible. Changing shoes can be an added challenge to your foot's biomechanics. Just like any other part of you body your feet are driven by muscle and bone formation and configuration. Having properly fitting shoes are important but focusing on strengthening the foot and ankle can be a game changer. Running on a variety of surface conditions is one way to break up the monotony and also a way to strengthen the ankle and foot complex. However keep in mind switching gears like this is best done by slowing down your pace to ensure a gradual increase in foot ankle endurance. Just like transitioning from different footwear in order to prevent injury.

5. Listen to your body. There is a difference between " Good discomfort" and "Bad Pain". Let's start with the good. Feeling heaviness, feel slight muscle aching. and pulling are okay in moderation and is a sign that you are pushing your limits which is needed to build muscle and endurance, this is good discomfort. However it is easy to cross into "Bad Pain" which is more sustained burning, tearing, muscle pain that last for days and causes reduced range of motion, then there are the dreaded pops that happen usually after "bad pain" has been ignored and pushed through. This type of pain is when we have pushed into the maximal capacity zone of soft tissue, if this happens increased rest is required to return to full functionality. If you continue to train at maximal capacity without rest your body does not have time to repair and build up the muscle endurance and capacity, so each time you do a work out back to back to back instead of building you are tearing down muscle further and further until the dreaded "pop", and catastrophic tear happens. So listen to your body, if you are having an "off day" honor it, and push yourself the next run.

*Please feel free to ask questions, comment, and share your return to outdoor running routine.

*Note that this might be focused on running but a lot of the principles if not all can cross over into yard work, lifting, hiking, sports, and biking.

* also the above is an educated opinion, if you want studies and more details please feel free to contact me anytime and I will be happy to share more clinically relevant data.


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