Spring (not Springsteen) has arrived in Wellington, and as the weather warms up (albeit slowly), many of our practice members are mentioning that they are dusting off their running shoes in preparation for the many upcoming running events over the next few months. Questions are also being asked about whether running is ‘bad for you’ and if distance running, especially on the road, is the cause of degeneration in the ankles, knees, hips, or discs of the lower back. Today’s blog asks if the belief that running wears out your joints is based on fact.
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association published a review that highlighted the lack of evidence that running is bad for your joints and actually suggested that moderate levels of running may even have a protective effect on the knees, hips and backs of healthy people. A study in The American Journal of Preventative Medicine reported that current data suggests that long distance running is not associated with an increased risk of joint degeneration if there is an absence of prior knee injury, poor muscle tone or obesity.
As chiropractors we recognise that your body is self-healing and that it also intelligently adapts to the stresses placed upon it. If we follow that line of thinking then your muscles and cartilage in your joints should adapt and strengthen in response to the loads created through running. We know that loading of the lumbar spine (like that which occurs during prolonged sitting) can speed up the degeneration of lumbar discs however there is no evidence that running accelerates disc damage. In fact more recent research in the SPINE Journal suggests that running may even be capable of stimulating and strengthening the cells and protein structure that make up the matrix material of your discs.
So why then are there reports of increases in other running related injuries (particularly those of the lower limb such as Achilles tendinopathies, heel spurs, or plantar fasciitis)? Well a growing body of evidence suggests that the rise in such injuries parallels so called ‘advances’ in shoe design (especially the development of pronation control and elevated heel cushion). Prior to the invention of these in the 1970’s and for most of human evolution, runners were barefoot or with minimal footwear. The British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that the cushioning in running shoes is based on the following assumptions: 1) forces of impact during running are sufficient enough to cause injury; 2) running on hard surfaces equates to a high impact force; 3) cushioned shoes reduce impact forces; 4) the potential of cushioning itself to cause injury is minimal.
But what if these assumptions are incorrect?
Evidence shows that our biological natural running gait of having a forefoot strike has been changed through the use of different shoes to be a heel strike landing. Nature never intended for us to land heavily on our heel, no matter how much padding your shoe has. Not only are the impact forces increased through landing on your heel, but the force actually increases according to the amount of padding in the shoe. Extra shoe padding also dampens the nerve feedback from the joints in your feet and lower limb further weakening the small muscles designed to support your foot arches.
Harvard Professor Daniel Lieberman is a big proponent of returning to our more natural style of running and in recent years there has been a boom in ‘minimal style running shoes’ to enhance this. The recent media release from the New Zealand Chiropractic Association showed that appropriate foot support combined with chiropractic care led to the most significant improvements in pain and function of the lower spine.
At Chiropractic Balance everything we say and do is designed to help you be in better balance. Our adjustments help to bring about a more balanced structure and movement pattern so that your brain has the most accurate understanding of what is happening in your body as well as your surroundings. When that is the case, your brain is equipped with the best information to then organise and coordinate the best response, enabling your body to work efficiently and for you to get the most out of life.
So it looks like Bruce Springsteen was right all along – “Baby, we were born to run”. Whether you are a casual jogger, weekend warrior, or aspiring professional athlete – if regular running is part of your fitness routine, or you have decided that participating in any of the spring or summer running events are on your goal list, then make sure you have your footwear and running style assessed in addition to keeping your body in balance through chiropractic care.
As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to chat to one of our experienced chiropractors.