RI FIT Magazine: Back to Running

By Dr. Gary Post

The mild winter, combined with the recent spring forward of the clocks, has led many runners to begin training in earnest for spring road races. When preparing for those 5ks, 10ks and half-marathons, do not underestimate the importance of proper spinal alignment as a preventative measure to major running injuries like  plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, IT Band Syndrome, patella (knee) tracking problems and hip bursitis.

All these running injuries—whether you’re a marathoner or a recreational runner—can be directly attributed to improper alignment. When your spine is out of line, your body tends to compensate in other ways and that added tension can lead to some of the aforementioned running injuries.

So, what are some of the primary causes of improper alignment while running? They can range from running in the same direction on the same course every day to frequent running on slanted surfaces like the beach. Continuing to run in worn out running shoes can also greatly contribute to improper alignment and subsequent injury.

Fortunately, the fix for these training errors is fairly simple. For example, vary your running surface—pavement, track, asphalt, grass, dirt, wood chips—a few times a week. If you like to run on the beach, run as close to the water as possible where the sand tends to be more flat. Also, buy two of the same type of running shoes and switch between the pairs. When you reach 200 miles logged on a pair, buy a new pair.

Of course, your non-running hours can also prompt misalignment, especially if you have a desk job or are sedentary for a good portion of the day. When seated in one position, your muscles tighten and your discs compress. After a long day, if you go for a run, there can be some negative stresses as well as positive "airing out". To prevent the possible negative stresses associated with long-term sitting, try switching positions, taking a short walk or a stretching break every 30 minutes.

An even better tactic would be to use a stability ball as your office chair for some or even part of your work day. Sitting on a stability ball challenges your abdominal muscles and allows you to rock your pelvis, which lubricates your joints. By switching between a chair and stability ball, standing periodically and taking short walk breaks, you can greatly improve the likelihood of keeping your spine in line.

Always take the time to warm-up before running. Diagonal leg swings, hip gyros, side lunges, pelvic rocks are just a few stretches that lubricate the joints of your lower back and help prevent injury.

Last, periodic visits to your chiropractor can help ensure that there are minimal negative effects to the joints of your spine and legs with the added impact of your increased running.

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