Most would agree that this winter in New England has been the worst we've seen in quite a while. It's been bad enough to keep even the most dedicated runners and walkers off the impassable streets and the gym-goers hunkered down at home. But signs of spring are slowly emerging and those hibernating exercisers are ready to emerge and start moving again.
But before you begin running a marathon, or even walking a brisk few miles, you should keep in mind some important tips, says Physical Therapist, Susan Dunn, P.T., M.B.A., of the Middlesex Hospital Rehabilitation and Hand Therapy Department.
Runners may be at risk of developing shin splints due to the impact on their joints. Physical therapists can evaluate the "quality" of the person's running, i.e., the forces they are using when they hit the ground which may predispose them to injury. A woman, for instance, can have a wider pelvis than a man, which affects the position of her knee angle. That may lead to patella femoral (knee and shin) problems. Using the correct guidelines for stretching can minimize those conditions.
Overall, stretching is without question the most important thing everyone should do before they begin to exercise regularly after a long period of being sedentary. However, stretching is now being viewed by experts in a different way. It the past, "static" stretching before starting exercise was recommended. Now, the preferred thinking is that athletes warm up a bit before they stretch, or stretch after the muscles are warmed up. In other words, experts suggest that you start off with an easy-paced walk, then do a little bit of stretching when the muscles are warmed up.
For competitive athletes, research has found that they actually get less power out of their muscles up to an hour after they've been stretched using "static" stretches that are done in a rigid position and focus only on certain muscle groups. More competitive runners may do better with a dynamic kind of stretch – going through active motions rather than static stretching to loosen up.
In addition, doing something like Tai Chi or yoga as preparation to restarting your golf or tennis game, can help tremendously with loosening up the spine and providing better range of motion. Even gardeners can benefit from these types of "alternative" warm ups!
Choosing the right shoe is another important factor. Running shoes that are worn down and have poor shock absorption can end up causing overuse problems that cause injury. When choosing a shoe, consider what type of foot you have. If you tend to be a "pronator," (have flat feet) you will want to choose a shoe that has a lot of control to keep your foot in place. People with a high arch (supinators) will want to look for something with more cushioning. Getting custom orthotics can also help.
According to Dunn, following these simple steps can help both serious athletes and those who exercise just to stay healthy, prevent injury and succeed at whatever type of physical activity they enjoy most. At Middlesex Hospital Rehabilitation and Hand Therapy, the trigger that brings most people in is pain. Dunn says that people who exercise regularly often ignore pain for as long as they can before seeking treatment. She advises against this, because often, if an injury is treated early, it can be fixed and prevent further damage. Rehabilitation therapy not only treats acute symptoms, but helps the athlete learn how to prevent the problem from returning in the future, by giving them personalized techniques they can use to help improve their performance without putting needless additional strain on their joints and muscles.
Please visit Middlesex Hospital's Rehabilitation and Hand Therapy on our website for more infomation.