Dear Dr. Donohue: I run with two other guys my age. We've been running for a year, and it has helped me to keep my weight under control.
My friends insist we stretch before we run. They do this for 10 to 15 minutes. I feel this is a waste of time. They say it prevents running injuries. Do you agree with them?
I used to believe that stretching exercises prevented injuries; I don't any longer. Stretching before running or before just about any athletic activity is performed as though it were a sacred ritual. Every devoted stretcher claims it prevents injuries.
Stretching has never been proven to reduce running injuries. If your friends insist on stretching, tell them they are wasting their time.
Stretching does have a place for improving performance. It increases flexibility. Flexibility allows joints to move through a greater range of directions. This is an advantage in many sports. A football player trying to intercept a pass has a greater chance of doing so if he's more flexible. That holds true for most sports. It doesn't for running.
Warming up is a separate issue. It is work done to raise body temperature before play. Warming up enhances the circulation of blood and increases the heart rate. Warm-ups are done simply by imitating the action of a particular sport but at a reduced speed and intensity.
I am definitely on your side, H.H. You don't need to stretch before running.
Dear Dr. Donohue: Some time ago, I remember reading what you wrote about isometric exercises. It intrigued me at the time. I forgot the details. Will you have another go at it?
Isometrics is muscle exercise without the muscle contracting or lengthening. In lifting a weight, your arm muscles contract to get the weight off the ground to the height that the exercise requires. In lowering the weight back to the starting position, the muscles lengthen. That's usual exercise.
In isometric exercise, the muscles do not shorten or lengthen. There is no movement. If you put your hands on the side of your house and tried to push it over, the muscles would not lengthen or shorten, but they are exerting themselves. Another example is to hold your hands together and push against each other with equal force.
Isometric exercise increases muscle strength. You can do it at work without attracting attention. It shouldn't be the only kind of exercise you do. People with high blood pressure ought not to do it.
Dear Dr. Donohue: I developed pain in my right thigh at about pocket level. I think I can blame my walking program. I jumped from walking one mile a week to walking four. What do you think I have?
From the location of the pain, I'd say you have bursitis, trochanteric bursitis, to be precise. Bursas are small, flat disks inserted between tendons and bones to prevent friction as tendons rub against the bone. An overworked bursa is inflamed and painful.
Stop the walking for three weeks. Ice the area for 15 minutes three times a day. If after three days, the pain has not lessened, switch to moist heat. If you have no health reasons that prohibit the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, start taking one like Advil or Aleve.
If the pain has not gone by three weeks, you have to consult a doctor. Conditions other than trochanteric bursitis could be at play.