Health Matters: Getting Back to Working Out Safely
By Dr. Rachelle Metz
Are you getting stir crazy as the weather warms up? Going outside is very appealing after hibernating indoors during a cold winter. Unfortunately, fast changes in activity can lead to injury if you’re not careful.
For example, overuse injuries such as stress fractures are very common once the weather changes. Stress fractures are tiny breaks or cracks in a bone due to repetitive force, often from overuse such as from jumping up and down or running long distances.
Other overuse injuries may include runner’s knee, which is an injury often associated with the new force of running on pavement compared to running on a treadmill. While not as persistent as a stress fracture, runner’s knee can put your exercise routine in a rocky position.
This is all common because of the nature of starting a new exercise routine. When our muscles are not used to running or walking regularly, our bodies enter a period of physical stress. While this new stress is normal, it is important to take your new routine easy in the beginning.
Your bones and muscles will be stronger as you use them. An acclimation period is a great way to build up strength, so you don’t develop stress fractures.
The shoes you wear may also give you the biggest difference in injury prevention. Getting shoes that feel comfortable for long periods of time on your feet are important. A pediatric specialist may be able to assess your heel strike pattern as well as whether supportive shoes would be beneficial for maximum comfort.
A good pair of tennis shoes made for running and walking is best for an active lifestyle or a new exercise routine. Some lifestyle sneakers do not have the support to sustain long periods of exercise; often they are flimsy and not cushioned enough.
Listening to your body is always important. It is natural to experience some soreness after exercising, especially after a hiatus from physically activity or a winter spent inside. However, pain and swelling – especially for a prolonged period – may be signs that a stress fracture has already developed.
It’s important to never ignore persistent pain that is more extreme than an average soreness.
If you start to develop pain after you start walking, don’t try to power through. It’s likely your body needs rest. The best way to take at least two weeks off before continuing back to a gentle exercise.
Setting small goals to increase your endurance is a great way to start. It’s important to consider what your body is used to. If you were walking two miles before, then you probably shouldn’t start your new routine at two miles – work your way up to it!
*Rachelle Metz, MD, specializes in orthopedic sports medicine and orthopedic surgery. Dr. Metz enjoys providing high-quality orthopedic care to her patients, including athletes of various levels. She has previously cared for professional and collegiate athletes, including the Saint Louis Billikens, Cleveland Guardians, Cleveland Cavaliers, Lake County Captains, and Baldwin Wallace University, during her training. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, completed her residency at the St. Louis University School of Medicine and her fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic Education Foundation.