If you're getting into running for the first time, it's important that you take special precautions against injury. Even if you are a fit individual in other sports, running causes unique stresses on the muscles and feet that other types of exercises would not have prepared you for. Here are some things you can do to protect your feet, ankles, and knees from getting hurt.
1. Don't give up on other activities.
Keeping a cross training schedule as you train will help you to protect your muscles, tendons, and bones from overuse. Most stress fractures in the feet are caused from increasing the speed and duration of an unfamiliar exercise too quickly. Cross training helps to keep this from happening. For best results, choose something that requires a completely different movement than running, such as swimming or biking.
Also, it's important to keep strength and flexibility exercises in your routine. Yoga, weight-lifting, and pilates are good choices. Weight-lifting will help to improve your joint stability, which lowers your injury risk. Running without flexibility exercises can lead to excess tension in the muscles, increasing your chances of a sprain.
2. Increase your water intake.
Muscle cramps are painful, and when they happen during a run, you might be tempted to simply push through until it subsides. However, one of the main causes of muscle cramp is dehydration, and pushing through can lead to injury to the muscle. Pushing through will also cause your gait to change, with other muscle groups compensating for the pain, increasing the chance of hurting another area of your body (usually the knee or the ankle). The way to prevent this scenario is to increase your water intake over the course of the entire day and to plan for ways to have water available during longer runs. Hot weather makes dehydration and muscle cramps more of a problem, so increase your fluids even more during warm days.
3. Take it slow and steady.
If you already have an active life-style, getting into running can actually still be a challenge -- despite your fitness level, you'll still need to take it slow. Your cardiovascular health may be up to the challenge of a long-distance run, but your feet, ankles, and knees will not be as accommodating if they are not used to impact-style sports. As you train to improve your distance and time, start by adding plenty of walking into your runs. A good rule of thumb is to only increase your mileage by 10% each week. If you are hoping to get faster, don't increase your mileage at the same time, but simply work on the distance you are running by getter a little quicker each time, and then increase your distance. By following this advice, you will avoid most overuse injuries.
4. Get the right shoes and form.
The best thing to do is speak with a foot and ankle doctor about what type of shoes they suggest for your height, weight, gait, and foot. Some people pronate to the left or right when they run, and they need shoes to compensate for this movement. You should also avoid buying your shoes online and go to a specialized running store to try on different pairs and take them for a spin to make sure they fit well and are comfortable. Since your feet swell as you run, most people need shoes that are slightly larger than their normal size, so that's another reason to try shoes out before you purchase them.
Some shoes are made for toe strikes, mid-foot strikes, or heel strikes. It's a good idea to have your running style analyzed before you buy into a certain type of shoe. Heel striking is sometimes touted as being "bad form" for runners, but the truth is that both heel and forefoot runners can have good form, as long as they are not over-striding.
A foot doctor at a local clinic like Advanced Foot & Ankle Centers of Illinois can help to know if you are running in a healthy way and treat any pain you're dealing with.