Running and Injuries
Whenever you start piling on the miles, you put yourself at risk for getting injured. It’s the nature of the beast. And though some of us are more prone to injuries than others, we tend to get stricken by similar problems.
What are the most common running injuries? Depending on who you ask, you may get different answers. But the following six are commonly mentioned. I am not a doctor or physical therapist, but I can attest to having experienced all of these injuries but one.
1. Runner’s knee
2. Stress fractures
3. Iliotibial band syndrome, a.k.a. ITBS
4. Plantar fasciitis
5. Shin splints
6. Achilles tendonitis
Touch Your Toes: Guess what helps heal/prevent all but one of these problems?
Thought I can’t promise stretching will cure any injury, it may help heal it and/or prevent one from creeping up in the first place. Stretching, along with gradual increases in mileage and an ice pack or two, may very well be your secrets to staying healthy. So what are you waiting for?
No time for stretching: I probably use the same excuse as you do – I don’t have time to stretch! I barely have time to fit that run into my schedule as it is, how the heck am I supposed to find time to stretch for ten-twenty minutes afterwards? One thing that has really helped me is to stretch-my-stretching throughout the day. Get up from the computer, stretch for 5 minutes, then get back to work. I also do a lot of stretching after dinner when the family is sitting around playing games or watching a movie/TV. Overview of the injuries: Here’s a little more information on each of these injuries.
1. Runner’s knee occurs when cartilage of the back of the knee cap wears down, resulting in pain and inflammation. It is commonly treated with orthotics and leg strengthening exercises directed at the middle quad muscle (assuming you have taken some time off and are pain-free). Ask your physical therapist for specific recommendations on stretches and other therapies.
2. Stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bones, typically in the weight-bearing bones of the lower leg and foot. They are typically caused by repetitive motion or overuse. Unfortunately, this is one injury that can’t be improved through stretching. After all, if you break a bone, it needs time to heal. If you’re a die-hard like I am, aqua jogging might be a nice alternative for training.
3. ITBS is an inflammation of the IT band, or ligament that runs on the outside of the thigh. Pain is typically felt at insertion points, either at the outside of the knee or the top of the hip. This injury often occurs when runners run too much or bump up their mileage too quickly, especially when training for a marathon. Stretching the hip (by leaning away from the injured side, the “bad” leg (associated with knee or hip pain) behind the “good” one is a common treatment of the problem. As is ice. Some runners may be forced to take time off if the problem is severe enough. I worked with a glorious massage therapist who worked my tight muscles to the point of tears and miraculously cured my problem. A foam roller is also great for releasing the myofascial (even if it hurts like heck!).
4. Plantar Fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, the band of tissue that runs from the heel to the toe. Pain is usually felt at the base of the heel. I found this injury to be a nagging one that did NOT want to go away. Orthotics and calf stretches are common treatments for this problem. I also massaged my foot (especially in the morning before I got out of bed) and filled a coke bottle full of water, froze it, and rolled it beneath my foot periodically throughout the day. Since none of these eradicated the problem, I resorted to the Strassburg sock. It was less expensive than the boot for night-time flexing.
Though uncomfortable and certainly not pleasurable, it worked.
5. Shin Splints is a pain or tenderness near the large bone in your lower leg. Stretching the calf muscles before and after running can help, as the Marie from Cheaper than Therapy can attest, but you may also need to take some time off.
6. Achilles tendonitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon, often felt along the back of the tendon near the heel. This is often caused by tight or fatigued calf muscles spawned by poor stretching, excessive hill or speed work, or increasing distance too fast. The treatment is similar to that of plantar fasciitis – ice, self-massage, orthotics and calf stretching.
This is the ONLY injury I have not had, so I can’t offer my personal recommendations on how to get rid of it.
DISCLAIMER: As I already mentioned, I am not a physical therapist or MD. If you have one of these injuries or suspect you might, I highly recommend you seek medical attention. I have had terrific luck with doctors/therapists who specialize in athletic injuries. You may save yourself time/effort down the road by nipping the problem in the bud EARLY!