Richard Beauchamp is a runner, a father, and an orthopedic specialist. He thinks kids should run whenever they want to.
Q: My kid loves to run, and I want to encourage him. But what precautions can I take as a parent to ensure that he doesn’t get hurt?
A: As children are more flexible than adults, they are probably LESS likely to get injured, provided they don’t “overdo it”. As children are still growing, they have growth plates in their bones. These growth plates are slightly weaker than the surrounding ligaments, tendons and bones and are therefore more susceptible to being injured.
Although there are no hard and fast rules regarding how much (distance and time) running is good or bad, there are some guidelines. For instance, training time should not increase by more than 10 per cent each week. The child should have one to two days off per week. And the parent or guardian should be alert to possible burnout if the child complains of non-specific muscle or joint problems, fatigue, or poor academic performance.
Q: My child says his legs hurt. How can I tell if my kid is running too much or simply has growing pains?
A: As an orthopedic surgeon, I use the term “growing pains” as a diagnosis of exclusion. In other words, if no other condition can be found to account for leg pains, then we may call it “growing pains.” Most growing pain symptoms are seen in children between four and 10 years, often in the evening or at night. The pains respond to heat, rubbing (massage), occasionally Tylenol etc. The child is actually growing from birth to maturity so what is unique to the 4-to-10-year age group? Many changes are occurring in the child’s leg development, which can be uncomfortable. (e.g. Knock-knees are seen maximally around age four; in-toeing hips are seen maximally around 6 years.)
Q: If my child does pull a muscle running, or complain about a sore foot or knees, what should I do as a parent to ensure they heal properly but still stay interested in running?
A: Even children can overdo it and develop a stress injury. Rest is the best cure for most injuries. However, we do not want to discourage exercise involvement in children due to the strong propensity for obesity in today’s children. Cross training is appropriate. In other words, pick a different activity: brisk walk, cycle, play ball, swim, etc.
Q: Are there surfaces that are better or worse for a child to run on?
A: Probably for anyone, a softer surface is more user-friendly. Even for adults, running on a formal track made out of a composite rubber material is a preferred contact surface. A surface too soft, like sand, is very hard to run in, as you cannot generate enough push-off force to make it enjoyable. Similarly, a rigid surface, like concrete, doesn’t give enough to absorb your impact forces. For the recreational runner, sidewalks are good in moderation, but trails are better.
Q: Is it safe to sign an elementary school-aged child up for a three-kilometre or five-kilometre race as long as he or she has been training for it?
A: I think if children have trained well, three- and five-kilometre runs are ideal.
Q: My child needs new running shoes, but so many shoes in his size seem to be more about flashing lights and action figures. What should I look for so that I know I’m buying a good pair?
A: Get your child fitted in a Running Room store — not a department store or even a shoe store. You need to have someone assess your child’s foot as well as his or her walking and running style to provide a suitable gait assessment. Generally, a child’s shoe should have a good rigid heel counter, some medial arch support, and a flexible forefoot shoe box. Bells and whistles are nice adornments if they are included, too.
Q: What are the benefits of running for children?
A: An early introduction to and maintenance of exercise will have a lifelong influence into health and general well being; 30 minutes of running, walking, basketball, hockey, skiing etc. Three times a week will mean 30 less minutes, three times a week, of screen time and lead to improved overall health development, in addition to life wellness, less obesity, less diabetes, less heart disease and generally improved mental and physical health.