The Owner’s Manual For The Female Runner

Wider hips, smaller feet, and a host of other traits make women more susceptible to injuries. Here’s what to do about it.

Whoever said that you can’t get too much of a good thing must not have been a runner—especially not a female runner.

Sure, running helps you beat stress, lose weight, look fantastic, meet great friends, gain more confidence, stay mentally sharp, live longer, and generally feel like a goddess. But go too far and running can make you moody, and even make you hurt.

To help make sure you never cross that line, use this guide. It tells you everything you need to know to run healthfully and sensibly for a lifetime.

Your Hips

Due to our wider hips, we women can develop more than our share of below-the-belt aches, including bursitis, an inflammation in the bursa sacs that surround and cushion your hip joint. “Think of bursitis as a kind of blister,” says Nicholas DiNubile, M.D., an orthopedic physician in Havertown, Pa., and consultant to the Philadelphia Ballet. “If the joint isn’t aligned, you’ll have rubbing. And if you run enough miles, that rubbing will create real irritation.”

To prevent bursitis, wear the right shoes for your foot type, avoid running on sloped surfaces, and be sure to increase your mileage gradually (no more than 10 percent per week). If you’re experiencing hip pain now, do stretching and strengthening exercises that target your hips and thighs, and cut down on your mileage, says Dr. DiNubile. If you ignore hip pain, you could end up with other problems, such as knee injuries or even stress fractures.

Your Knees

Just one joint down from the hip is the knee-the second victim of our wider-hips problem. Many women suffer knee pain from patellofemoral syndrome, in which the underside of the kneecap rubs against the bottom of the thighbone, causing irritation, inflammation, and pain, says Richard T. Braver, D.P.M., a sports podiatrist in Englewood, N.J. This syndrome is especially common in women because our hip-to-ankle line often isn’t perfectly straight, creating either knock-knees (when the legs curve in at the knee), or bowlegs (when the legs curve out).

To prevent and relieve knee pain, do exercises to strengthen your quadriceps, and make sure you’re running in the correct shoes, Dr. Braver says. In particular, look for shoes with good medial support, which will keep your feet and ankles from rolling in too much. You also should cut back on your mileage, at least until the pain goes away.

Your Shins

Pain along the front or inside edge of the shinbone, known generically as shinsplints, is another problem for women. We tend to have looser ligaments in our knees and ankles, which means we’re more likely to overpronate. That places extra strain on all the muscles in our lower legs, including those in the shin area.

If your shins are sore, shift to non-impact workouts until the pain disappears, and add stretching and strengthening exercises to your routine. You also should check your shoes for adequate arch support and appropriate stiffness, says Dr. Braver. “Lots of women come to see me with shin pain, and it turns out they’re running in shoes that are way too stiff.”

A runner who overpronates might buy a rigid shoe hoping to keep her ankles from turning, he explains, but many motion-control shoes are simply too stiff for a woman’s less-muscular foot to bend. “If you hear a slapping noise every time your foot hits the ground, your shoes are too stiff,” he notes.

Trying to run through pain is a big mistake, especially if the pain is worst at the beginning of your run. By continuing to overload your muscles, you could cause a stress fracture, a tiny crack in the bone due to repeated strain. In the case of shinsplints, the crack forms after your already-tight muscle is gradually pulled away from the bone, taking its connective tissue with it. If you have a stress fracture you’ll have to give up running (and any other impact activities, including power walking) for several weeks or longer.

Your Feet

If you’re experiencing pain anywhere in your legs or hips, the cause of the problem may be your feet – or more specifically, your shoes. Women typically have narrower heels than men, and many women buy shoes that are too small in order to keep their heels from slipping, says Dr. Braver. Because we tend to pronate more, we also need shoes with the right mix of stability and support.

Shoes that don’t meet those requirements can cause pain in any of the joints of your body, including those in your feet. The wrong shoes can contribute to a condition called plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the fibrous tissue that runs along the bottom of your feet. It often produces a stabbing sensation in the bottom of the heel or arch.

The best shoes for your feet will feel snug enough to prevent sliding, but loose enough to allow your feet to flex properly.

Most specialty running stores can give you advice about the best shoes for you. To figure out your foot type, do the wet test: Step out of the shower onto a piece of paper, and trace the outline of your footprint. Then take it to the store with you, along with an old pair of running shoes. These items will help the salesperson determine the shape of your arch and the way your foot typically moves when you run. If the best off-the-shelf shoes don’t cure your problems, try some drugstore inserts, or see a podiatrist for custom-made orthotics.

Originally posted runnersworld.com

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