Let’s face it: running can be a fickle mistress. At one moment, you may be running along a beautiful, tree-lined path, enjoying the day and your ability to run, but suddenly the next moment you may be stopped in your tracks, wondering about a sudden pain in your foot, shin, or knee and whether you can finish your workout.
Injuries can happen for a number of reasons, but nearly all can be avoided, and even cured, with some preventative measures and a little bit of work!
1. Shin Splints
Shin splints is characterized by pain along the shin bone, and is caused by sharp increases in high-impact activity (like running) or intensity.
The best way to prevent shin splints is to gradually increase mileage, by no more than 10 - 15% each week, and to slowly increase intensity. Other preventative measures include calf strengthening and stretching. Adding toe-raises and certain yoga poses (such as downward facing dog) in your daily routine can keep shin splints at bay.
To cure shin splints, a few days of total rest is recommended. While resting, applying ice to the shin area for 15 minute intervals can help alleviate inflammation. Additionally, compression sleeves or socks are useful for not only curing, but also preventing, shin soreness.
2. Runner’s Knee
Runner’s knee is a general term for any type of knee pain or tightness. For an overwhelming number of runner’s knee cases, the pain originates due to tightness in the illiotibial (IT) band. As with most running injuries, runner’s knee is caused by running too many miles, too soon, as well as having weak hips, hamstrings, and quadriceps.
To prevent knee pain, strength and stretching routines which target these areas are recommended. Certain yoga positions (such as pigeon pose) can alleviate IT band tightness, while strength exercises (such as squats) can strengthen the surrounding muscles and prevent knee pain.
To cure runner’s knee, the tension in the IT band must be alleviated. This can be achieved by visiting a sports massage therapist, using a foam roller (cylindrical piece of dense foam that one “rolls” sore muscles across), or even taking a rolling pin to the area. If using a foam roller or rolling pin, simply roll the entire outside area of the thigh, from hip to knee, to loosen any knots or trigger points.
Another common running injury is tendonitis, which most commonly occurs in the Achilles tendon, plantar fascia, or patellar tendon. Tendonitis is one of the most common “overuse” injuries, and is characterized by stiffness and pain in the foot, ankle, or knee that gradually lessens throughout the day. If self-massaging these tendons, one may notice a “creaky” or “crunchy” sensation.
Prevention of tendonitis includes gradual increases in mileage, wearing properly fitting shoes, and targeted strength exercises. Applying heat to the affected areas before exercise, followed by ice immediately following exercise, can also prevent a tendonitis flare-up from becoming a full-blown injury.
To cure tendonitis, a few days of total rest is recommended. Depending on the severity, tendonitis may require a visit to a physical therapist. For milder cases, self-massage, rolling (with foam roller or rolling pin), and stretching may suffice. Exercises such as toe-raises, toe “scrunches” (place a towel on the floor and “scrunch” your toes to pick up the towel; repeat 5-10 times), or bodyweight squats can strengthen the affected areas and alleviate tendon pain.
To Sum Up...
Ultimately, the most common running injuries can be cured and prevented by taking proper precautions. Listening to one’s body is of utmost importance, as is patience. Attempting to run through pain will quickly turn nagging soreness into a full blown injury. Implementing a strengthening and stretching program into your daily or weekly routine can help prevent most common injuries, as well. Most importantly, however, is to stay patient with gradual increases in weekly mileage.
Article written by Anna Weber, competitive runner for over 16 years.