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4 Smart Adaptations for Runners with Arthritis

If arthritis pain and inflammation are interfering with your marathon training, don’t miss this essential guide to making smart adaptations to reduce symptoms and improve your performance:

4 Smart Adaptations for Runners with Arthritis

Check your form

Is your form supporting a pain-free running experience? It’s no surprise just how impactful the placement of your arms, the lean of your chest, and the strike of your foot can be when it comes to optimizing your running speed, power, and efficiency (and mitigating the shock to your joints). You can work with a running or sports medicine specialist to analyze your running form and make smart modifications, but these quick tips are usually key:

  • Relax your upper body – a tense, tight upper body will have more difficulty adequately handling the impact of running and distributing the shock in the most productive way. If you notice your forearms tightening or your hands clenching while you run, stop, take a pause, practice deep breathing and shake everything out before starting back up.
  • Lead with your chest – practicing good running posture does indeed mean keeping your spine straight, but not straight up. A slight lean forward starting from your ankles and all the way through your chest allows you to properly extend your hips and shift your bodyweight with each step.
  • Avoid the chicken wings – don’t let your arms flap out at your sides while you are running or you will waste unnecessary energy that may decrease your time to fatigue. Instead, hold them relaxed at a 90-degree angle at your sides (avoid letting them cross in front of you) and pump them straight forward and back with your strides, coordinating your swing to help drive you forward.

Another good way to analyze your running form is to look at old race photos or to record a video of yourself running on the treadmill. Make notes for improvement and compare to where and when you feel arthritis pain or discomfort. A little data can go a long way, especially if it means helping you keep running despite your arthritis.

Shorten your stride

A longer stride may seem like your ticket to a faster, more powerful run, however, it can also be the instigator of strained muscles, tendons, and joints in your hips and legs. When you increase your stride length past your normal range of motion, you push your body outside of its comfort zone. This can lead to aggravation of your hamstring, shin muscles, and the tendons which connect your leg muscles to the bones in your knee.

A 2014 systematic review published in the journal Sports Health reported that a decreased stride length which resulted in an increased stride rate reduced the number of occurring factors that are known to contribute to running injuries. As low as a 5 to 10 percent increase in step frequency was shown to cut down the energy absorbed by the ankle, hips, and knees as well as decrease impact shock and attenuation. For arthritis sufferers, this could equate to some degree of relief during long bouts of training.

Change your terrain

Hard asphalt or cement might not be the optimal terrain for running if you live with arthritis. Some studies have shown that the increased bounce of grass, unpaved paths, trails, and even treadmills might soften the forces your joints feel when you run long distances. In fact, a 2008 study found that a running surface composed of grass resulted in less load on the rear and forefoot in recreational runners than asphalt did. If you’re struggling with road races, consider giving short trail races a try instead.

Strength-train

One of the best ways to offset the stress to your joints is to make your adjacent muscles do more of the work. The thought goes that the stronger your muscles are, the more they can support your joints so that they don’t become stiff, inflamed, and painful with use. Strength training also helps to build bone mass and protect your bones against the higher risk of fracture and degradation which accompanies some forms of arthritis.

Weight machines, free weights, resistance bands, even body weight exercises like planks, lunges, and squats all count as strength training that can enhance your training routine and help keep arthritis symptoms at bay.

If arthritis inflammation sidelines your training routine or worse yet, lands you using a mobility device to aid your recovery, don’t get discouraged. Talk to your doctor, find out what type of physical activity will help you heal and have at it! Yoga, swimming, cycling . . . you might be off marathons temporarily but that doesn’t mean you have to spend your downtime on the couch. Get creative and let your passion for sport fuel the discovery of new physical activities that can help combat your arthritis symptoms.

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