Professional Opinion: How safe is it to run on the beach?

rdamgen@islandpacket.comJune 16, 2014 

Dr. Kirk Johnson is a fellowship-trained and board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Orthopedic Associates of the Lowcountry.

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This week, Dr. Kirk Johnson, a fellowship-trained and board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Orthopedic Associates of the Lowcountry, discusses what to keep in mind when you're running on the beach.

Question. A run on the beach feels like more of a workout than runs on grass or concrete. Are there any dangers to running on the beach on either soft or packed sand? Are there ways to prevent any injuries that are common when running on sand? Is it OK to run barefoot on the beach, or should I stick to wearing shoes (and getting sand in them)?

Answer. A run on the beach, particularly on soft, unpacked sand, can be quite a workout. It requires a high-step gait, which places greater stress on the quads and hip flexors.

The danger with any change in running surface is not being properly prepared. In other words, the most predictable running surface is a boring run on a treadmill because there is some shock absorption. Turf and asphalt also have different characteristics, so your body may not be used to them if you always run on a treadmill. The same is true for a run on the sand.

On the beach, there is always a slope toward the water. Therefore, you need to spend equal time up and back -- in other words, run for the same amount of time with your right side toward the water as you do with your left side toward the water. This equal-time effort avoids creation or aggravation of hip bursitis and lateral band complaints at the knee.

Another issue to be aware of is the inescapable encounter with a hole that has been dug by a joyful child. That can be an invitation for an ankle or knee sprain.

It is not necessary to wear running shoes when running on sand, depending on if you have any foot problems.

As with any running program, "mixing it up" is my best recommendation -- change the running surface, duration or frequency to keep things from getting boring and to give your body a new challenge.

So, see you on the beach, one of the most soulful places to go for a run.

Follow reporter Rachel Damgen at twitter.com/IPBG_Rachel.

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