by Dr. Daniel Shaye, Chiropractic Physician
Like most runners, you probably lace up your shoes and head out the door for your run without considering the miraculous machine that will carry you over land. Let's take a moment to appreciate that very machine.
With every running movement, muscles up the legs and thighs all the way to the shoulders and arms need to work together. Pushing off with the right calf correlates with forward and upward (flexion) movement of the left shoulder even as the left hip also flexes and the right hip extends. The hips shift from side to side with each stride, with a muscle on the outside of each hip (gluteus medius) keeping the temporarily ground-based push-off hip from collapsing. 3-5 times body weight crashes up your frame with each footstrike, to be distributed via muscles, tendons, and ligaments (including spinal discs and menisci in the knees)-- thus limiting joint damage, muscle strain, or bone failures. Silently, tiny cells called osteoblasts are inspired to build bone and respond to the repeated stresses of running. Over time the bones of your shins and hips, if fortified by calcium and vitamin D and a healthy body, become denser and adapt to the stresses of running. Your heart gets bigger and stronger, and will be able to eject more oxygen-rich blood with each mighty pump while beating slower at rest. Over time your body adds and maintains MILES of blood vessels to deliver oxygen, glucose, and other nutrients; as well to provide more efficient waste-product (such as CO2) elimination capacity.
Your shoes cover roughly ¼ of the bones in your entire body. Each foot is a flexible structure that can sense the ground and adapt to it, changing in an instant from flexible to rigid, from a highly adaptable ground-sensor to a rigid structure capable of absorbing powerful impact forces and levering you forward. Speaking of forward, running is almost like a series of leaps. Unlike walking, where one foot is always on the ground, running has a portion of its cycle where NO feet are on the ground. In a way, we runners are flightless birds who don't even make the pretense of flapping.
With each out-breath, your lungs expel a metabolic waste product called Carbon Dioxide (CO2). As your brain signals your diaphragm to pull downward, your lungs expand to sample the atmosphere. Air is pulled through ever-smaller tubes into many tiny air sacs called alveoli, which are surrounded by blood vessels; and those blood vessels pull out a minority component of the air called Oxygen. The pulmonary veins carry that oxygen to the left atrium, which transfers it to the left ventricle to be forcefully expelled to the needing brain, pumping arms, striving legs... indeed, to every cell of the body. The carrier of that oxygen is the red blood cell, which has a life of only 120 days. Deep in the marrow of your bones, new red blood cells are being born and raised even as we speak; and they'll be needed, since red blood cells (RBC's) will be destroyed with every foot strike. No worries-- eat some iron-rich spinach, and blood vessels around your digestive tract will pull take that mineral and bring it where it needs to be for assembly into the next generation of RBC's.
The blood also carries sugar (glucose), a major energy source. The major storage house of this glucose is the liver, where glycogen is stored; and when the body calls for it, the liver opens up its stores, allowing you to run a mile, a 5K, or even a marathon or more. And when the body gets really hungry, it can also burn the tremendous energy in a fantastic storage medium known as fat.
The most remarkable miracle of your body isn't the bones, or the liver, or the blood... it's the magnificent computer and wires called your brain and nervous system that coordinates the remarkable, concert-like processes that make running possible. You can focus on pace and form, or admire nature, all without a thought to your amazing machine and command-and-control systems. The "machine" will talk to you, guide you, even warn you of impending problems such as too fast a pace or an impending stress fracture; and it does so without the slightest need for system upgrades. Maybe you should say "thank you, amazing machine, for carrying me through each joyous run!"
I wish you many happy -- and appreciative-- runs, my friends.
-Dr. Daniel A. Shaye
Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician
Fellow, International Academy of Medical Acupuncture
Do you have a question you’d like answered? Mail your questions c/o Performance Chiropractic1307 Jamestown Road, Ste. 103, Williamsburg, VA 23185; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.performancechiropractic.com