Running Injury Free
Simple Ways to Reduce the Risks
After some winter months off, beginning light running from scratch is a sure way to prevent injury. Using a simple run/walk pattern to build up your stamina will minimize most risks. Very common in runners are lower leg injuries, a specific biomechanical causes, all that are rooted in tight calf muscles and relative weakness in the front leg muscles. What’s going on is that your tight calves are pulling up on your heel, which in turn pulls the front of your foot down. This puts strain on the muscles in the front of your leg, which unfortunately are not strong enough to resist the pulling. A likely condition since running tends to exercise the calf muscles more than those in the front. As a result, you may eventually experience one more of the injuries listed in this section. A little rest and a lot of stretching and strengthening will fix you up and possibly make you a better runner, too.
Common Running Injuries
Anterior shin splints are one of the most common running injuries for beginners whose enthusiasm for their new sport has over-stepped the limits of their legs. Commonly known for the pain in the front and outer edge of your legs. Should the strain continues, it is possible that micro-fractures may form in your tibia; these are stress fractures. There won’t be a sudden break, just a gradual increase in pain until it becomes quite severe. If you have extreme shin pain, see a doctor for an x-ray. If you have only mild pain, it’s probably shin splints (but if the pain does not respond to remedies after a few days, go see a doctor; it may be a stress fracture after all).
While the root cause of shin splints are tight calf muscles and weak shin muscles, the injury may have been further aggravated by a variety of factors. Running on hard surfaces can put an added strain on your front leg muscles. You may have a foot that tilts in (pronates) or out (supinates) when you run, causing your front leg muscles to work harder to achieve foot stability. Most likely, however, is that you’re simply running too much.
If you have flat feet, posterior shin splints are very common. Its the pain on the inner side of your leg, right where the calf muscle meets the big shin bone. If the pain is severe, you may have strained this area enough to cause a stress fracture in the tibia. If this is the case you should see a doctor immediately. It is is caused by a strained muscle that gives some support to the arch of your foot (the muscle runs from the shin bone around the ankle and attaches behind the ball of the foot). A remedy to ease pain is an immediate ice-pack upon your shins after running. Keep it on 10-15 min. A definite cut back on mileage and a few days off from running will help. Most importantly, do not run through pain or you will make the injury far worse leading to a stress fracture.
Wearing a commercial arch support and include arch strapping can give support and reverse the symptoms. Stretching your calf muscles several times a day with wall toe taps exercises particularly before running will help. Be sure to ease into the stretch slowly and go to the point that where you begin to feel the muscle resist the stretch. There should be no discomfort and note that over stretching the calf can only do more damage.
If your pain persists, go to see an osteopath to find out if you might have a stress fracture.
Achilles tendon pain located in the lower calf along the cord connecting the heel to the calf muscle. The injury is actually the swelling of the sheath within which the cord slides. When it becomes swollen, it creates too tight a fit for the tendon. Friction and pain are the results. To confirm that you have Achilles tendinitis, pinch the tendon starting close to the heel and working your way up toward the calf. If you feel some serious pain and maybe some swelling, you’ve got Achilles tendinitis.
A likely causes is that your tendon is being pulled, and because tendons don’t much like to stretch, you feel a lot of pain. There are two reasons it might be getting stretched. First, your calf muscle might be too short. Second, your heel might be too far from the calf muscle.
Remedies for Acute Injury
The best way to remedy to reduce the pain and swelling is by icing the area immediately after running. You can use either a store-bought cold pack or a frozen wet towel. Ice for 10 or 15 minutes. To reduce inflammation, take an aspirin or ibuprofen at mealtime. At other times (before bed, for example), soak the sore tendon in hot water.
Lifting your heel up toward your calf will relieve the pull on your tendon. Try a heel insert in your regular shoes as well as your running shoes. You can purchase heel lifts in the foot section of many drugstores, or try using a makeup sponge as a substitute. You’ll probably notice an immediate difference.
Most important, though, you’ll have to stop running for a few days. Give your tendon as much time as it needs for the pain to go away. If you continue to run through the injury, you risk tearing the tendon, and then you’re looking at real pain. The time you should take off will range anywhere from a few days to two weeks. And don’t stretch during this period, either. Your tendon has already been yanked around too much, and stretching, at least at first, will hurt more than help.
When you begin running again, pay special attention to stretching your calves with and your hamstrings including wall taps and wall push ups (these stretches, incidentally, are the key modes of preventive maintenance for avoiding Achilles tendinitis in the future). Avoid running on soft surfaces which might let your heel sink in too much (e.g., sand). Ice your tendon after every run and put a heating pad (at a low setting) on the area in the evening and at bedtime.
Incidentally, hill work is particularly aggravating to your injury. Cut way back on hills until the injury has healed, and then return to hill work only gradually.
Here’s some tips how to prevent them.
1. Don’t increase your mileage too fast. No more than 10% per week.
2. Don’t suddenly start doing a ton of speed work. Ease into it.
3. Don’t suddenly start doing a lot of hills.
4. Don’t suddenly switch to running on a much harder surface.
5. Don’t suddenly start running in racing flats or other shoes with minimal cushioning.
6. Make sure you shoes are right for you and your bio-mechanics.
7. Make sure your shoes aren’t too worn. Replace them after 300 miles or so.
8. Avoid over-striding
9. Stretch your calves. Shin splints are often caused by an imbalance between your shins and your calves.
10. Strengthen your shins by repeated flexing your toes toward your shins and by walking on your heels with your toes flexed upward.
If you do end up getting shin splints, get some rest, ice your shins, take some anti-inflammatory drugs, and re-evaluate your recent training to look for clues as to what caused them. Make some adjustments and when your shins feel better, ease back into running.
André Noël Potvin, MSc, CES, CSCS, TFL, is a Clinical Exercise Specialist and Owner of Infofit , North America’s Premier School for Fitness Professionals.