By Toribio T. Natividad, M.D.

It’s a new year, and you may notice the trails and gyms are packed with more runners than usual. El Paso has some great races coming up, and if you plan to participate, or you just want to add running to your 2017 fitness routine, you will want to prevent injuries by following some simple tips.

As an orthopedic surgeon at Las Palmas Medical Center, I see various injuries attributed to running. The vast majority of these injuries are a result of overuse and include tendonitis, bursitis and muscle strains. Other injuries that can occur but are much less frequent include stress fractures, specifically in feet. These running injuries are the result of repetitive movement or overuse over time, rather than one single traumatic event. The following guidelines will help prevent these types of injuries

A strong body guards against impact from running and helps maintain a consistent gait. Distance runners may be prone to muscle imbalances with weakness in their glutes and hamstrings. You will want to focus on a balanced strengthening program that includes the core, glutes, hips, legs, ankles and feet. If one set of muscles is weak, other muscles will compensate for that weakness, getting overworked and disrupting the chain of movement. This can create an inconsistent gait, resulting in injury. A strong core will help maintain good posture and a proper running form.

Proper Stretching

Before beginning a long-distance run, a proper warm up is important. This may include a brisk walk or a light one- or two-lap jog followed by dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching warms the muscles and increases heart rate, which can help prevent injury. Examples of dynamic stretching include walking lunges (forward or side-to-side); partial squats; swinging the leg forward, backward and side-to-side; and trunk twists. Begin with small movements, then increase your range of motion and pick up speed.

After a run, static or stationary stretching exercises are helpful, especially if you have an area that feels tight. Stretching after a run can help reduce the amount of soreness and loosen muscles on days you are recovering.

Proper Footwear

Before you purchase a pair of running shoes, consider the shape of your feet. Do you have flat feet or high arches? Runners with flat feet may want to consider shoes with built-in arch support and a higher stability shoe. Those with high arches will require arch support and possibly extra cushioning. When purchasing new running shoes, ask the sales representative which shoes are appropriate for your foot type.

Running shoes should have about a half an inch of extra room in the toe box. Going up even one full size in a running shoe may be needed to allow you to wiggle your toes. Always try on both shoes, and make sure your heel is snug and secure. The right shoe should feel like part of your foot.

Don’t Overdo It

Include days of rest between runs so that your body can recover and adapt to a new workout. Gradually increase your distance, allowing your body enough time to adjust. The 10 percent rule recommends increasing mileage by no more than 10 percent each week. This is a good general rule when starting a running program.

Whether you are training for a marathon, or trying to shed a few pounds, these simple tips can help you stay healthy and out of the emergency room.

-- Toribio T. Natvidad, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon at Las Palmas Medical Center and El Paso Orthopaedic Surgery Group.