Running for gold requires planning

The following article was sent to YFile by Dr. Howard Chen, a sports medicine physician at Athlete’s Care Sports Medicine Centre, located at York University. He lectures in the Dance Health course in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. 

After watching the Olympics for the past week, many armchair athletes decide to strive for their own gold. They decide to start a running program because it is cheap, burns extra pounds and it is not a difficult activity to master. How hard can it be?

Honourably, they are determined to hit the pavement every morning. Initially all goes well, but during the second week many novice runners start feeling pain in their feet, shins and knees after the run. The pain is only mild at first, and it goes away quickly. Progressively the pain gets worse. It starts limiting the length of their runs and causes a limp.

The old adage “no pain, no gain” doesn’t apply in this case. It is estimated that 20 per cent of adults run, with an annual injury rate of 24 to 68 per cent, depending on the study. There are 2.5 to 5.5 injuries per 1,000 hours of running, and 70 per cent of all overuse injuries are seen in runners.

However, it is not time to throw in the towel just yet. The most common causes of running injuries include correctable training errors, improper footwear, and choice of poor running surfaces and terrain. A novice runner’s initial misstep was to underestimate what is required to start and maintain a running program. While it is easy to run, it is not easy to run smartly and safely.

Organized running programs are very helpful in providing knowledge and support for every level of runner, especially the novice. Keep in mind that program organizers, no matter how good, are not usually aware of an individual’s personal medical status, and usually aren’t trained to deal with biomechanical and medical problems.

Novice or would-be runners who have existing medical problems, or those who haven’t attempted any physical activity since the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup, should seek medical advice prior to beginning a training program. A visit to the family physician prior to starting a training program is a good place to start. If the family physician is not able to provide the adequate information, then the advice of a sports medicine physician would be helpful in attaining appropriate exercise goals for a new runner.

The sports doctor can provide information regarding which type of shoes to purchase to replace clunkers. Motion control shoes for flat feet and orthotics are helpful in treating painful conditions such as plantar fasciitis and shin splints. Sports medicine doctors are also able to offer valuable advice on how to correct training errors and how to progress  training safely, in the context of an individual’s medical history and biomechanical development.

Following an assessment by a sports medicine physician, the doctor can suggest treatment and coordinate the medical team of therapists and health professionals that a new runner may require to successfully achieve their running goals. The sports medicine physician can also design a program for the safe return to fitness and good health.

About Dr. Howard Chen

Dr. Howard Chen is a sports medicine physician at the Athlete’s Care Sports Medicine Centre, located at the Toronto Track & Field Centre at York University. He obtained a sport medicine fellowship at McMaster University and has qualified with the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine.  Dr. Chen has covered many sporting teams and events, including the Ontario Summer Games, the National Figure Skating Championships, the Canadian World Road Cycling Championships, the CCAA National Volleyball Championships, and the CFL Hamilton Tigercats.