There’s no doubt about it: Americans love to run. In fact, about 36 million people patter the U.S. pavement each year and, according to the nonprofit running industry organization Running U.S.A., in 2010—for the first time ever—more women than men completed half-marathons. The reasons for running’s popularity are many—from the euphoric “runner’s high” and decreased rates of depression to body benefits that include weight loss, lowered blood pressure and levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and reduced risks for osteoporosis (thanks to a boost in bone mineral density). The best bonus? It’s free and you can run anytime, anywhere. But for all its pluses, running can be painful and, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, at least 50 percent of distance runners experience injuries every year. The reason for that comes down to mechanics, says William Roberts, M.D., F.A.C.S.M., director for the Twin Cities Marathon and a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. “But the cause isn’t necessarily universal,” he adds. “The person could have an acute biomechanical imbalance—say they stepped in a pothole or have tight joints. They could also have run too many miles, beyond their limitations.”
Reducing the painful risks
Injury prevention is about what works for the individual, says gait biomechanics researcher Reed Ferber, Ph.D., director of the Running Injury Clinic in Calgary, Alberta, and professor of kinesiology at the University of Calgary. “There is no ideal running form, so the way someone runs is dictated by the way she is built, her anatomical alignment, strength and flexibility,” he explains. “In fact, we strongly encourage people not to change their running form in an effort to treat or prevent injuries unless they’ve first considered all of their biomechanics.” So have your doctor, physical therapist or athletic trainer check out your gait and physical limitations. Then, if he or she gives you the go-ahead, explore the trends that follow, which have been gaining fans in the running world for their injury-preventative properties.