Staying Level at the BeachBy now, many of you have probably been visiting the local beaches for your summertime activities and vacations with family and friends. We are fortunate to live so close to the coast that a trip to the beach is at arms length. Although a lot of folks visit the beach to relax, stretch out on a blanket or in a beach chair, others see the beach as an opportunity for exercise in a beautiful environment right next to the water. No matter what beach area I visit, I seem streams of people walking and running on the beach for fitness. Most of this occurs on the firmer sand, nearer the water.

There are some inherent problems with walking or running longer distances in this situation.

Most beaches are beveled. That is, the sand slopes toward the water at varying angles. So you must realize that when someone walks or runs on that sloped surface, one leg (the one closer to land) is hitting the ground higher than the other leg. Imagine if you had a thicker sole on the shoe of that leg while walking on level ground. That would have the same effect. Over time, this creates a tilt in the pelvis and spine which can lead to problems. Having one hip higher during weight bearing can lead to tightening of hip and low back muscles, uneven pressure in the discs in the spine, not to mention stresses to the knee and ankle down below.

I typically do not discourage patients from ever walking or running on the beach as long as they understand the risks and take some measures to prevent problems down the road. I have had my share of patients come into the office with complaints of hip and back pain after a trip to the beach, and we together conclude it may have stemmed from the situation described above.

The best approach to manage these stresses is to practice some basic exercises and techniques outlined below.

1. First of all, make sure you have good walking or running shoes. I do not advocate long distance running or walking barefoot, even on sand. Actually, the foot is better suited to landing on a firmer surface rather than one that “gives way”.

2. Perform the “hang stretch” that I use all the time for my many patients with hip and back problems related to uneven muscle tightness that could be caused by being on uneven surfaces. Stand on the bottom step of a staircase sideways with the leg closest to the steps held straight with the knee locked and the other leg hanging off the edge of the step freely. Holding the railing, let the leg that is off of tghe step simply hang like dead weight, creating almost a traction effect. Let it hang for 30 seconds. Do this 3 times on each leg.

3. Sit on a bench or even the sand with one leg straight out in front and the other knee bent and foot on the ground. Take the bent knee and pull it up toward the opposite shoulder until you feels a stretch in the buttock. Hold that position for 20 seconds. Do 3 times on each leg.

So, enjoy your walk or run right next to the ocean. But remember to do these simple drills to keep your body balanced and your mind free to enjoy the sensations of sun, surf and sand.

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