“Is running okay for my knees?”, “Is it too much impact for the joints?”, “Should I run at all?”, “How do I run safe and injury-free?”, “Can I just go from walking into running 5km straight?”
These are a few of the many questions many of us will have; many of them are valid but before asking any of those, one should ask two questions-
“Is my body ready for running?”
“Is there any structural/ health issues that will be aggravated by running?”
You see, rather than asking if one should run or what are its effect, it’s more important to ask if one can run. If one cannot run due to various reasons, all the other questions become inconsequential.
Can I run?
Running is after all a high impact activity with benefits as well as costs. When the cost far outweighs benefits, it will not be worthwhile to run. A few structural issues like missing big toe or torn knee ligament may significantly increase the cost and make running not as optimal an exercise choice.
After identifying that there is no structural or health issue that may be impacted by running, the next most important question is whether the body is ready or not. Many times apparently healthy older adults may start experiencing musculoskeletal issues when they start running due not to “worn” out knee caps or a “bad” hip but due to lack of body preparedness. The saying of needing to learn how to walk before you can run/ fly applies.
Conditioning and preparing the body for running.
Many individuals may unknowingly have small dysfunction(s) in their walking gait which is easily exacerbated with the introduction of more load, like in running. In this case, running is rarely the issue; the lack of conditioning is. And gait dysfunction may well be due to muscle imbalance or lack of strength or poor neuromuscular coordination and balance. For example, excessive tightness in the anterior hip will disallow posterior hip musculature from performing its function in propulsion to overuse the adjacent joints (lower back and knee); or the simple lack of balance and strength to maintain single-leg stance will likely distort the stance phase of gait to cause much compensations in various joints or how the lack of timely calf involvement in the propulsion phase of gait will overuse the hip and lower back musculature.
All these can be addressed with a personalized conditioning program that targets each individual’s needs.
When the body is minimally prepared, the next key thing is to be progressive with the distance. Jumping straight into a 5km run after having not ran much doesn’t make sense even if there isn’t any gait dysfunction. The body needs to be able to handle the distance without needing to compensate. Starting with short distances and working your way up is the way to go.
When you find that you can run without issues and has already built up the fitness for it, much of the initial questions no longer becomes a problem. Building up the tolerance for and being able to do it safely is key. By then you’ll be able to reap much of the benefits of running without as much of the potential costs.
For osteoporotic clients, running will be one of a great way to prevent further bone mass density degeneration or may even reverse it if the conditions are right. So run if you can but address any musculoskeletal issues before loading it.
If you’re interested to find out how you can get into running safely, check out our “Older Adult Can Run Too” program. It is structured in bringing you through a progression while targeting weakness, if any. Let us help you run and run better!