What a pain! Learning to deal with running injuries

Jan. 24, 2011 at 11:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 23, 2011 at 7:24 p.m.

In a world where more is often better, sometimes less is best. Many times, athletes will push their bodies through pain in order to reach their goals, ignoring signs and symptoms of an injury. Any good training program will allow for recovery days and weeks.

When an athlete is in a constant state of training, taking full days off during the week and incorporating easier days into each training week works to allow the muscles and body to recover and is more beneficial in the long run. More important, recovery days and weeks help an athlete avoid potential overuse injuries.

There are many potential injuries to contend with as a runner. Every runner and each injury can be unique in cause, meaning treatment needs to be individualized also. The most important thing you can is identify the problem early on and take the necessary steps to prevent further damage from being done.

Achilles tendinitis is a painful condition of the tendon at the back of the ankle that is commonly an overuse injury. Inflammation can occur, causing pain and swelling. The Achilles is the large tendon that connects two major calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus, to the back of the heel bone. When the tendon becomes overly stressed, inflammation (tendonitis) occurs. Over time this inflammation will lead to scar tissue development and makes for a less flexible tendon. If this situation continues without being treated, the Achilles can tear or rupture. Symptoms include dull or sharp pain anywhere along the back of the tendon, but usually close to the heel. Self-treatment can be beneficial. To help relieve the inflammation, take ibuprofen or aspirin and ice the area for 15 to 20 minutes several times per day. Self-massage of the area can also help. Stretching the calf muscles will help, and running should not be resumed until you can do toe raises without pain. If the symptoms do not subside or improve, you should consult with a physical therapist or an orthopedic surgeon. Good alternative exercises to do in place of running include cycling (quick cadence, low resistance), swimming and pool running. One of the best ways to prevent Achilles tendinitis from occurring is to stretch the calf muscles and Achilles tendon well. The best stretch is to stand on the balls of your feet on a curb or on stairs with your legs straight. Drop both of your heels down and hold for 10 seconds, and repeat two or three times. Wearing motion-control running shoes, avoiding hill workouts, and making sure to ease into your program are all sure ways to help fend off this common injury.

Chondromalacia, commonly referred to as "runner's knee," is an irritation of the undersurface of the kneecap. The undersurface of the kneecap is covered with a smooth layer of cartilage, which usually allows it to effortlessly glide across the knee when the joint is bent. Chondromalacia refers to the softening or wearing away and cracking of the cartilage under the kneecap that will result in inflammation and pain. Symptoms include pain beneath or on the side of the kneecap and a general nagging discomfort. Sometimes the soreness worsens after running hills, and swelling is also typically present. Self-treatment measures include icing the knee for 15 minutes, two or three times per day (a bag of frozen vegetables works well to cover the area). It is also recommended that you stop running. Once the pain and swelling have subsided, strengthening the quadriceps is recommended. Also remember to stretch your quads and hamstring muscles after running. You can resume easy running after 4 to 6 weeks. If your "runner's knee" isn't responding to self-treatment after four weeks, you should consult with an orthopedic surgeon. Alternative exercises include swimming, pool running, and rowing. To help prevent Chondromalacia, make sure to strengthen and stretch your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. If overpronation is a problem, look for a shoe that has firm midsoles and one that helps with motion-control. Orthotics may be beneficial, as well as avoiding downhill running. Always make sure to give yourself a day off from training and don't overdo it.

Plantar Fasciitis refers to an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick, fibrous band of tissue in the bottom of the foot that runs from the heel to the base of the toes. When the fascia is placed under too much stress, it stretches too far and tears, leading to inflammation. It is caused by stress, tension, and pulling on the plantar fascia. Runners who have tight Achilles tendons or who have high arches are more prone to getting this injury. Self-treatment includes reducing running amount and taking aspirin or ibuprofen daily. Icing the area 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times per day, is also recommended. I like using a frozen can of juice and actually rolling my foot back and forth over it, heel to the ball of the foot and back again. If the injury doesn't resolve after four weeks, see a podiatrist who will make recommendations. Alternative exercises include swimming, pool running, and cycling in low gear. Making sure to stretch your calf muscles and fascia will help prevent this injury. Also, strengthening the fascia will help in preventing this injury. You can strengthen the fascia by using your toes to pick up marbles, golf balls, or pulling a towel toward you. You can stretch the fascia placing your foot up against a wall, and leaning into the stretch, feeling the pull throughout your calf and heel. Repeat this stretch ten times on the affected foot, three times per day.


These are just a few of the most common types of running injuries. When you start to develop any of the symptoms listed above, take note that this is your body's "warning system" that something is going on and you need to address the potential injury early on. By taking the proper steps early on in an injury process, you may be able to avoid a progressive-type of injury, one that could cause you to have to take an extended time off from running. Listen to your body and rest it when you need to!

Missy Janzow owns Fit4U, a personalized training and nutrition service. You can reach her by e-mail at janzowml@yahoo.com or online at www.fit4uvictoria.com.



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