El Niño has trudged through the northeast providing unseasonably warm weather while shattering record high temps. One-hundred-year old snow records have fallen here in Buffalo and for the first time in the past six years, I find myself running in shorts at the end of December. (You should know that I’m cold intolerant and shorts are hard to come by)
Make no mistake, the snow will be here and with that many runners hobbling into my office. It’s a conversation I have hundreds of times every winter.
There’s this aura of toughness by trudging through awful conditions. We tout our frozen eye brows with knee deep snow selfies hash tagging our way through social posts. But are you really growing your toughness or simply making poor choices that lead to injury?
“Hey, you want to go play basketball?”
You get a call from a friend who asks you to fill in for a basketball game; after all, you’re “that runner” who can run up and down the court all day. Prior to joining the roster your friend sneaks in a small detail that you’ll be playing outside and the court is land mined with patches of black ice.
Hiding behind every jump, pivot, turn, and push off resides the opportunity to rip and tear at your muscles, tendons, and joints. Would you still play? Just to state the obvious—you shouldn’t.
Your body (neuromuscular system) craves stability. When we run our muscles generate hundreds, if not thousands of pounds of force down through our leg and into the ground. Passing this force down through the leg happens regardless of surface you run on.
Structurally our anatomy is designed to be in a specific position as we progress through the running cycle. For example, at push off our foot point down (plantarflexion) and turns in (supinated), the knee straightens (extends), and the reaches backwards (extends).
Now imagine a scenario when you’re trudging through snow. Right at the final point of push off. The point where all the force is transferring from your foot to the ground. Suddenly, the foot loses traction and slips. The foot turns out (everts) and experiences relative dorsiflexion (doesn’t point down), the knee bends (flexes) and falls inwards (adducts), and the hip spins inwards (internally rotates) and avoids reaching backwards (extension). Now replicate that a few thousand times over the course of a run.
What was once a smooth, predictable push off surface is now a cluttered mess of varied foot strikes that are highlighted with poor alignment. Plantar fascia’s, Achilles, and knees are ripped through torsional forces that they simply cannot withstand.
Now, I’m not saying that you should NEVER run in the snow, but there are a four rules to follow to weather the storm (pun intended):
|1. Stick to pavement: If it’s safe (and you have a choice) between a poorly groomed sidewalk and a salted and plowed road, take the road. Keep to the surface that is more predictable.||2. Work into it: Unless you’re a regular trail runner, your body will need some time to adapt to running on unstable surfaces. As the cold weather approaches try to get a few weeks of occasional trail running under your belt. If not, spend a minimum of two weeks running easy outside.||3. No Speed Work: If you’re not running on dry pavement you should not be running hard. This includes racing, tempo runs, and track workouts.||4. Trail Shoes: If running through snowy, slippery surfaces is inevitable, toss on a pair of trail shoes or other traction devices (i.e. YakTrax). The extra traction will help improve communication between your foot and the ground.|
Despite the awesome weather we’ve had here in Buffalo, I’ve already seen patients from a single snow fall (which happened to fall on a race day). The key here is to minimize your risk. Find dry pavement or head indoors. A single treadmill run is far more tolerable than dealing with a 3 to 6-week injury because you wanted to update your newsfeed with a bad ass profile pic.
If you know a cold weather runner, help them out (and me) by sharing this article below. Thanks!