If we want to get down to the core of the issue, why can high-impact activities be so problematic?
Because of something Sir Isaac Newton knew a thing or two about: Gravity!
As a general rule—when you defy gravity, you pay. Fortunately, the price is usually one our bodies are capable of paying. But there are times when the cost is too great, and we can’t afford it. (If you were skydiving, you’d wear a parachute, right?)
The way gravity affects the body when walking, running, and doing other “normal” activities can be as extreme as jumping out of a plane without that parachute. That 22 tons of impact that occurs in a 2 mile run is from 2,200 steps and not from one impact, so it does play a considerable role in foot and ankle injuries.
We may need to alter the effects of that gravity somewhat. No, you won’t suddenly go flying off the earth, but one way to mitigate gravity’s effects is through activities like cycling, ice skating, rowing, and curling. Gravity is still impacting the body, but less than it does with high-impact activities featuring running and jumping.
(You can also drink a beer while curling much more easily than while running … or maybe not; check out www.breweryrunningseries.com)
Now, to remove gravitational forces—or at least severely limit them—it’s time to hit the water!
Aquatic activities, like swimming and water aerobics, can almost be thought of as no-impact. So water is essentially how you defeat gravity, and this is quite beneficial because there’s no pounding on your joints!
Rehabilitation and Cross-Training
When getting back to your favorite activities, skill level will certainly be a consideration. In the case of elite athletes, physical therapy may entail a greater degree of resistance training at earlier stages than for your average “weekend warrior.”
Regardless of level, proper rehabilitation requires strengthening affected body tissues, while at the same time maintaining fitness levels as best as possible. Rehab is not the way to a permanent fix, however. It should be temporary, but there may be elements you incorporate in your fitness plan going forward.
Be prepared for some sort of shift in routine during rehab. This is especially true for many runners, whether they wish to hear it or not. Reducing overall impact may be an essential part of recovery and avoiding chronic problems in the future. And that may mean some transitioning to lower-impact activities like cycling.
True story: Your favorite go-to foot doc was actually a runner once upon a time but had to switch to cycling for rehabilitation purposes. Turned out that he loved cycling and has stayed with it to this day. For every runner who is still running on a regular basis after 4-5 decades, there are dozens of cyclists who are still riding.
Cross-training is also a smart approach, whether you are currently undergoing rehab or not. It provides better overall fitness, but without the downside of beating up your body the way intensive exercise programs can.
Finding Balance Between Goals, Fitness, and Physics
It is important to be realistic with your body. After all, sometimes in life you will have to take a detour—and that might lead you to new and exciting places. (Like, for example, becoming an avid cyclist.)
Having dreams of greatness is good, and the true motivation to pursue them can be rare. But there are good and bad ways of treating your body to get somewhere, and continuing to push yourself much too hard or repetitively (we’re looking at you, ultra-marathoners, age group softballers, AT hikers, 4-decade mogul skiiers) can make those dreams crash into a sea of chronic pain. We want take age out of the activity equation and keep you crushing it, but with age comes the wisdom of rehab and prevention.
If you have been suffering from heel pain, great toe joint pain, or other foot and ankle injuries, we will work with you to create a plan that lets you continue to pursue your fitness goals as much as possible—just expect it not to match what you’ve been currently doing!
For physically active foot and ankle help in Indianapolis, call Your Go To Foot Doc at (317) 545-0505. We also welcome appointment requests and questions via our online contact form.