Running in the 'Meda: State of the body

Running in the 'Meda: State of the body

Marty Beene

Photo by Marty Beene.

Earlier this week, President Obama gave his annual State of the Union speech. While watching part of it, it occurred to me that we should all take stock of ourselves in a "State of the Body" evaluation.

Feet: How do your feet feel? Any pain on the bottoms? I went through a bout of plantar fasciitis some years ago, and never want to have to do that again. Now, any time I feel the slightest pain on the bottom of one of my feet I'm practically rushing home to massage (using a nifty foot massager made by Theraband) and ice. So far, it's working. How about your toes? I have occasional arthritis pain in my left big toe, but it seems to hurt less the more I run, so it isn't hurting much these days.

Ankles: Have you ever sprained an ankle? Do one or both of your ankles feel weak on occasion? A simple exercise to strengthen the muscles related to the ankle is to sit with one foot is dangling in the air, and imagine you have a pen between your toes. Slowly trace the alphabet in script. Repeat with the other foot, then do two more rounds with each foot.

Shins: Shin splints? Ow. I had shin splints once, in 1984. Proper running form and appropriately strong lower legs can help prevent this painful condition, but once you get it? There are lots of ways to treat it, some less ineffective than others. I have heard two different practitioners of Active Release Technique claim that they can relieve shin splint pain relatively quickly using therapy that is initially very painful. Probably worth a try.

Calves/Achilles: Any stiffness or pain? An inflamed Achilles tendon can take a long time to heal, so I'm always careful to monitor any discomfort and ice when necessary.

Knees: For active people, knees are often an Achilles heel, so to speak. My knee health has generally been great throughout my life (notwithstanding a few weeks ago when I had my housecleaning injury), but many people are not so lucky. The trick to healthy knees seems to be a good balance of strength in the muscles on either side of this tricky joint, plus good running form. Good running form utilizes all of the "stretchy stuff" (i.e., tendons, ligaments, muscles) to share the shock of running instead of just cartilage. If you land on your heels when you run, you're letting cartilage absorb that shock, and cartilage isn't really designed for that.

Hamstrings/glutes/hips: The muscles along the backs of your legs and up into your rear end are some of the biggest muscles in your body. Among other things, they can have a big impact on whether you develop hip pain at some point in your life. Are you doing exercises to keep them strong? Are you having any pain? Some people develop pain in their sciatic nerves, which run down the backs of the legs. That is something that is best left to a medical professional to address - fortunately, the minor pain I had for a couple of months in my left glute area went away.

Back: According to articles cited by the American Chiropractic Association, as many as 80 percent of humans will experience back pain at some point in their lives. I've had my share, so I'm committed to keeping a good balance of upper, lower, and core body strength to help prevent it. How does your back feel? Do you have chronic pain? Do you feel nervous about completing simple tasks like reaching down to pick up a pencil? If anything, try to be particularly conscious of how your back feels from day to day. If you have continual problems, work with your favorite medical practitioner and personal trainer to figure out a long-term solution - it may be easier than you think.

Shoulders/arms: We do so many things with our arms, it's no surprise that we sometimes experience pain in these body parts. A common type of pain is from repetitive stress, often caused by too much computer time. My arms and shoulders feel great these days. I do some strength work, and I feel like that is definitely helping keep my shoulders and arms healthy.

Neck: My neck feels pretty good most of the time. I make an effort to gently turn my head left and right, up and down throughout any given day - I don't know if that's what is keeping my neck pain-free or not. I know people who have had frequent neck pain, and even serious neck problems related to both muscle and bone issues, so this is definitely something for your State of the Body checklist.

Head: How is your mental state? Your mental state related to fitness is important for keeping your body healthy - I have certainly had my own motivation issues from time to time. But don't forget to take care of your overall mental state. If you are feeling depressed, stressed-out, worried, anxious, etc., don't hesitate to get some help from a mental health professional.

How did you fare in your State of the Body evaluation? What body parts did I leave out?

Marty Beene, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and specialist in senior fitness and fitness nutrition, is owner of Be The Runner; he trains adults of all abilities individually and in groups. He can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.