Five Common Running Injuries and How to Deal with Them
Making the choice to become a runner can be a life changing decision. The benefits are numerous and can last a lifetime. However, if you run long enough you are bound to encounter some bumps along the way in the form of injuries. In over thirty years of running I have suffered from pretty much the full spectrum of repetitive overuse injuries. Here are a few tips and things you can do to help deal with and prevent these common running aliments.
Plantar Fasciitis is an inflammation of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot. This tissue is called the plantar fascia. It connects the heel bone to the toes and creates the arch of the foot. Plantar Fasciitis occurs when this thick band of tissue on the bottom of the foot is overstretched or overused. This can be very painful and make walking more difficult, especially in the morning when you first get out of bed. Factors that increase your risk of being affected by this include having flat feet, sudden weight gain, shoes with poor arch support and having a tight Achilles tendon.
This common affliction of runners usually results in heel pain that is often confused for heel spurs. Instead, what you are feeling is small tears and inflammation where the thick tissue meets the heal bone.
Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis include rest, ice, use of an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, and heel stretching exercises. If none of this works the use of custom orthotics may be recommended. I have had an issue with plantar fasciitis a few times over the years and now wear custom orthotics. They provide the arch support that I need and have essentially solved my Plantar Fasciitis problem.
I am also mindful to keep my Achilles tendon flexible and do exercises to strengthen my foot muscles. My favorite is to use my toes to pick-up a small object. This scrunching motion is very helpful in strengthening the foot muscles. Another useful exercise that you can do at home is to roll your foot back and forth over a small round object like a tennis ball. This helps to stretch and massage the plantar fascia. And of course there is the towel stretch. Just wrap a long towel around the top of your foot with your leg extended and gently pull the top of the foot toward you. This will help stretch the arch and plantar fascia.
ITBS: Iliotibial Band Syndrome
This common knee aliment causes pain on the outside of the knee and is associated with tightness in the iliotibial band. The pain is normally aggravated by running, particularly downhill running.
Certain factors make you more susceptible to developing this syndrome and they include; weak hip and gluteus muscles, overpronation, leg length difference and running on a cambered surface.
Common self treatments start with rest and avoiding downhill running when you start up again. Applying ice to reduce inflammation and the use of an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen can also help. There are some simple stretches that you can do that should help to strengthen the weak muscles. Lie on your side with your legs stacked one on top of the other. Keeping your legs straight, lift your top leg up while pointing your toes inward and toward the ground and hold this position for 30 seconds. Roll over and do the other leg. Do three sets on each leg and try to gradually work up to one minute per set. This exercise will help isolate and strengthen the glutes.
Another stretch that can help is what's called the knee crossover stretch. Lie down and bring one knee in towards the chest. Keeping both hips on the floor, gently pull the knee a few inches across the body, towards the opposite shoulder. You should feel a stretch in the hip and down the outside of the right leg.
The term shin splints is a common name often given to any shin pain at the front of the lower leg. However, true shin splint symptoms occur at the front inside of the shin bone and can arise from a number of causes. In addition to the pain there can sometimes be swelling in the area. Anyone who has ever suffered from shin-splints knows just how painful this condition can be.
This common running aliment is usually caused by an inflammation of the sheathing that surrounds the tibia. A number of factors can contribute to shin-splints and they include overpronation (excessive inward rolling), oversupination (excessive outward rolling), inadequate footwear and increasing your training mileage too quickly.
Common treatments include applying ice to the area to reduce inflammation and the use of an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen. Using the proper footwear and possibly even orthotics can help to reduce the effects of the overpronation and oversupination. There are a few exercises that can also help that are designed to strengthen the calf and lower leg muscles. Try doing calf raises where you raise the heel of the foot off the ground as high as possible and slowly return to the ground. Toe walking and heel walking will also help to strengthen the calf.
Achilles Tendonitis is a condition of irritation and inflammation of the large tendon in the back of the ankle. Achilles Tendonitis is a common injury that tends to occur in recreational athletes. Overuse of the Achilles tendon can cause inflammation that can lead to pain and swelling. This condition is often caused by a lack of flexibility and overpronation. Age also plays a role in Achilles Tendonitis as tendons become less flexible as you get older and become more susceptible to injury.
Most cases of Achilles Tendonitis can be treated at home with ice therapy and the use of an anti-inflammatory. Once the inflammation has gone down you can begin exercises to strengthen and increase the flexibility of the tendon.
Calf drops are a good exercise for this and can be done almost anywhere. Just stand with the balls of your foot on a step and slowly raise the heel of your foot until you are on your toes. Hold the position for a few seconds and then slowly lower your foot to a position slightly below the step. Do three sets of 10 for each foot. Wall stretching of the Achilles tendon can also be accomplished by placing one foot forward with the foot on the ground up against a wall while keeping the other foot back. Lean into the wall slowly and hold the position. This will stretch out the Achilles tendon and the calf muscle. Be careful not to do too much stretching of the tendon until the inflammation has subsided to avoid aggravating the problem.
Commonly confused with ITBS, this knee aliment is a common injury among runners. With ITBS the pain is associated with the iliotibial band that is located on the outside of the knee. Runner’s knee is usually related to a weakness in the quadriceps muscles or a misalignment of the kneecap and results in pain to the inside of the knee.
As with most inflammation type injuries the use of ice therapy, rest, and an anti-inflammatory will help. A great exercise to help strengthen the quads is the squat. This can be done either on a flat or downhill facing surface. From a straight up position squat halfway down until you reach a full squat position at 90 degrees. Try doing three sets of ten. If this is too easy try doing them with some light weights in each hand or try doing single leg squats. Doing leg extensions with some resistance and mixing in some biking are also useful for strengthening those quad muscles. Other quad exercises include lunges for strengthening and leg pull backs to stretch the quads.
Ice the trouble spot for ten minutes on, then ten minutes off, repeating as necessary. You should apply ice as soon as possible after you have been injured, and immediately after a run if you are running with an injury. Heat should only be applied to an injury after the inflammation has subsided, probably after about 72 hours or so. If your swelling has gone down quite a bit, but there's still a little bit of inflammation, try alternating heat and ice after a few days of ice-only treatment.
Dealing with any overuse injury can be a frustrating experience. Our inclination is usually to not take time off from training for fear of losing our conditioning. Sometimes however, the prudent thing to do is to take the time for an injury to heal. And of course, if an injury does not respond to any home therapy you should certainly seek out professional medical advice. Ignoring an injury or attempting to run through an injury can only lead to a worsening of the condition and to ultimately having to interrupt your training for an extended period of time. Sometimes taking just a few days off combined with using ice therapy, an anti-inflammatory, and some flexibility and strengthening exercises can save you some serious time off and get you back on the road in no time at all.
© 2012 Bill De Giulio