Running is a great form of exercise AND helps children develop a healthy lifestyle. An appropriate running program that include safe practices and training can be beneficial – and fun – for not-so-active children as well as for young athletes who want to avoid sports-related injuries and maintaining healthy bones, joints, and muscles.
When can my child safely start a running program?
- Children under the age of 5 should not start a specific running program. Running with play activities is appropriate enough. At very young ages, children have not yet achieved a mature gait and running pattern, and a structured running program is not appropriate.
- Children around the ages of 5-8 have developed more mature gait patterns and the mechanics of running become easier. Running in terms of sprinting on the playground and games of tag should be encouraged. Around this time, some children may develop an interest in a more structured form of running. Training for a 5k is not appropriate, but training for ½ mile fun runs may be considered. Walking when tired and having fun should be encouraged.
- Pre-teens ages 9-12 may choose to start running long distances up to 1-3 miles. Pre-teens shouldn’t focus solely on running, and other sports in addition to running should be encouraged.
- Teens have the opportunity to begin running on organized school sports teams, such as track or cross-country teams. The focus on training and competing starts to become a little more serious. There should be an emphasis on good form with stretching and strengthening exercises that help prevent injury. Starting good habits now will help with injury prevention into adulthood.
What kind of shoe should my child wear?
A well-fitting pair of running shoes is important. For kids who are ready to begin a running program of any distance and intensity, it is time to graduate from blinking, cartoon-inspired shoes to an appropriate sneaker.
A proper sneaker can help with injury prevention from the ground up, including preventing shin splints, ankle pain, knee pain, and hip pain. Local specialty running stores are often a good resource for proper shoe fitting and can help in the selection of the right shoe. For more information on brands and models visit www.runnersworld.com/kidshoes.
What do I do if my child is injured?
Unfortunately, injuries can happen. Any complaints of pain should be taken seriously. To continue running through the pain is dangerous, and can only lead to increased injury. The cause of injuries range from acute onset, such as rolling an ankle in, to the result of wear and tear on our muscles, joints and tendons over time as with a tendonitis injury. If your child is experiencing pain or irritation with running here are some steps you can take to help them feel better:
- Rest! Take some time off from running and activity to recover.
- Ice the affected area for 10-15 minutes 2 or 3 times a day, especially after exercise.
- Apply compression to help with inflammation.
- Elevate the affected area.
If your child isn’t getting better, or has a more serious injury (such as a bad ankle sprain), call your doctor. Physical therapy also helps address an injury so that he or she feel better and get back to sports and running with decreased risk of re-injury.
What can I do to prevent an injury?
An easy does it approach is best. Avoid overdoing it with excessive running and gradually build up tolerance and endurance. Participate in various sports and recreational activities to strengthen and train muscles to react and be strong.
Stretching is important. It helps to decrease risk of injury, helps our muscles feel better, and decreases muscle soreness after working out. Stretching on a regular basis helps improve flexibility, which is an important part of being able to run well and injury-free.
At the Orthopedic Specialty Center at The UVM Medical Center, we have a team of Physical Therapists who are happy to help should you need our care. Our highly skilled experts treat all orthopedic injuries, running injuries, as well as pediatric injuries to help keep all members of your family fit, healthy, and injury-free!
Alexis Hannigan, PT, is a physical therapist at the Orthopedic Specialty Center at the University of Vermont Medical Center.