All athletes encounter injuries at some point, especially when training for a big event. But for runners, certain aches and pains seem to be consistent across the board. Since most of the top five running injuries are attributed to overuse, it’s really no surprise that even those who take their time piling up miles to prep for marathons and half marathons are still at risk of facing some sort of discomfort.
So, while you may have taken months to clock the road time required for that last long weekend run before the main event, it’s easy to push yourself too hard in a training run and set yourself up for a persistent problem you’ll be stuck with long after race day. We’ve pulled together a list of the top five injury offenders, what causes them and what you can do to pull through and keep your training on track.
Plantar Fasciitis: An often sharp, but sometimes dull pain felt in the heel when connective tissue along the bottom of the foot called plantar fascia is inflamed. Usually occurring in the morning when muscles are tight, walking barefoot or during and after runs, plantar fasciitis can come from overpronating feet, tight calves or weak hip and glute muscles. Plantar Fasciitis can be tough to shake if not taken seriously, so if you feel it flare up, it’s best to rest a bit, grab an ice pack, stretch your calves and massage them with a foam roller, as well as add in some strengthening exercises for your feet. Squats, lunges and leg raises can help strengthen hips and glutes, which can fend off Plantar Fasciitis recurrence down the road, too.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome: Aching on the side of the knee when the band of connective tissue along your outer leg that’s used to stabilize your knees and hips becomes irritated. This happens when weak glutes allow the pelvis to shift, causing your femur bone to move away from your knee, stretching the ITB. When you feel ITB pain coming on it’s better to lower your mileage for a little while and alternate your runs with elliptical or bike sessions until you’re pain-free. Lateral side steps and lateral leg raises using ankle resistance bands will strengthen your hips while uphill runs will gear up your glutes to support healthy hip movement and keep your knees from pronating in the future.
Runner’s Knee: Irritation to the cartilage under the patella which typically flares up after long runs or going up and down stairs, runner’s knee is the most commonly cited injury. Affecting nearly 40% of runners, it’s also responsible for the misnomer that running is bad for your knees over the long haul. Taper back until the pain subsides, and when you do hit the road be sure to pack on some ice post-run. Strength and resistance training for your hip abductors and quadriceps will go a long way towards avoiding a painful repeat. Try shortening your stride to lessen the impact on your knees and as with most of the maladies on our list, a stronger, better buttocks will give the support your hips and legs need to steer clear of injury, too.
Shin Splints: Small tears in the muscles surrounding the shin bone or tibia results in painful aching along your front shin area. Shin splints are common for new runners or those who have taken a long break and they’re a good sign that you’ve taken that extra step – too far, too fast – before you were ready. Worn out shoes or non-supportive sneaks for runners with high arches or flat feet can cause pain too. Rest, ice and take ibuprofen for the pain and substitute pool runs or biking for a few days. Compression socks can help ease the pain and prevent more injury. Once you’re up and running again, increase your mileage just 10% each week to keep from overdoing it.
Achilles Tendonitis: When the tendon connecting the calf muscles to the heel (Achilles) tightens under too much stress and pain becomes acute just above the heel. Tendonitis is a chronic pain of the tendon and as such, it’s not an easy injury to slough off. While you can probably finish out your training, push it too far and you run the risk of developing a more serious problem that may take more than six months to heal. Weak, tight calf muscles and aggressive training increases (particularly in hill repeats and speed work sessions) can trigger AT. If you can catch the first twinge of pain early, take a break from running, load up on ice packs five times a day and work to strengthen your calves with some alternating heel drops.
For those who’ve put in some serious miles heading in to the Chattanooga Marathon on March 4th, you might have become all too familiar with injuries along the way. Hopefully practicing some of these techniques and tips can help you ease any twinges of lingering pain now and recover more quickly afterward. Visit the Vein Institute booth on race day for more information on how you can have healthy, long-distance legs for running.