Running into 2024…carefully

Originally published in the Williamson Herald

Ronald Derr, D.O. shares advice for runners to avoid injury

Whether they’re training for the Music City Marathon or simply following through on a New Year’s resolution to be more active, more and more people are taking up running this time of year. However, with an increase in runners also comes an increase in related injuries. But that risk can be reduced with the proper precautions and equipment.

Dr. Ronald Derr, orthopaedic surgeon at Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee, offers tips for runners at any level to stay safe and healthy while enjoying being active. With over 27 years of experience, Dr. Derr is an expert in foot and ankle orthopaedics and continuously treats running injuries.

His best advice, whether you’re a new runner or restarting after a break, is to start slow.

“This time of year is conducive to injuries as people have high expectations of themselves to meet goals and often do too much too fast,” said Dr. Derr.

He advises runners to be cautious of the intensity level of their program, especially following a time of relaxation over the holidays. He advises mixing walking and running to lower the impact on your body and prevent injury.

“There are lots of resources out there to help new runners,” said Dr. Derr. “Using an online program or joining a running group can help regulate your running schedule and advise you on how quickly you should advance.”

However, it’s not just about intensity. Keeping your equipment up to date can also help protect your body from injury. 

“Even though your shoes may not look old on the outside, the support and impact protection can break down over time,” said Dr. Derr. “It’s important to replace your shoes every 400-600 miles or no less than once a year to avoid injury.”

Your local athletic shoe store can help you determine which shoe is best for you, and some stores even offer coaches to evaluate your gait and fit. 

Stretching is also important to reduce the risk of injury.

“Most people don’t realize that your calf muscle and Achilles tendon control the movement in your foot,” said Dr. Derr. “The best thing you can do for your feet is stretch.”

These are some steps you can easily take to reduce the risk of injuries like calf strains, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and metatarsal stress fractures. If you experience these injuries, they can often be treated with methods that do not limit your ability to be active. 

“Lots of people are hesitant to get evaluated because they fear we will tell them to stop running,” said Dr. Derr. “Most of the time we’ll have you cross train or do something that allows for aerobic conditioning while reducing impact to the body. 

He often suggests low impact workouts like the rowing machine, stationary bike or even swimming to alleviate repeated impact on the injury. Sometimes, something as simple as changing the running terrain to a softer surface such as a trail or grass can reduce the impact load while healing.

However, preventing injuries starts with lifestyle choices outside of running. Dr. Derr urges runners to invest in a nutritious diet by cutting out inflammatory and processed foods.

“Try to eat more natural and whole foods to fuel your body,” he said. “Hydration is also critical to strengthen muscles and advancing your running skills — make sure you are drinking plenty of water.”

If you do start to experience pain, Dr. Derr recommends getting an evaluation earlier rather than later. At the first sign of injury, try using anti-inflammatories and utilizing the RICE method — rest, icing, compression and elevation. If the pain persists longer than 3-5 days using these methods, let the providers at Bone and Joint Institute evaluate your injuries and provide a treatment plan.   

“Overall, we want people to be active because it is great for physical and mental health,” said Dr. Derr. “When starting to run, just remember to be smart, start slow, stretch and have fun.”

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