Monday Medical: Ready to run? Easy does it
Running is a great way to get outside, stay healthy and fit and feel good. But it’s also an easy way to get an injury.
Many running issues are due to overuse. Strains to the calf and Achilles tendon, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures and IT band syndrome are all common issues both novice and experienced runners can face.
One cause of these injuries is doing too much, too soon.
“This year is a perfect example,” said Jennifer Kerr, a physical therapist with a sports specialist certification who works at SportsMed at Yampa Valley Medical Center. “We had really crummy weather, and now that it’s getting nice, people want to jump right back in. They either increase their mileage too quickly, or they start doing speed work too soon.”
New runners can face the same challenge.
“You start running, you start feeling good, you start making gains — so you think more is better,” Kerr said.
But more isn’t always better; without proper preparation and training, you can be dealing with an injury before summer starts.
Following are Kerr’s recommendations for preventing running injuries.
• Cultivate balanced strength: If you skied all winter, then dusted off the running shoes in spring, you may find you have strong quadriceps but weak hamstrings. Or if you’re an avid cyclist and then start running, you may have good cardiovascular fitness but weak lateral hip strength.
Build up overall strength with cross-training and activities such as yoga, Pilates and weightlifting. Keep tabs on your own strengths and weaknesses.
“It’s always good to know your body,” Kerr said.
You may also want to consider a strength analysis and gait analysis with a physical therapist or at a specialty running store.
• Don’t run through the pain: Most overuse injuries start off small, which is also when they’re easiest to treat. A few months later, not only will the injury be worse, but your body will be compensating, which may lead to other issues.
“If you have a little something that’s bothering you, don’t ignore it,” Kerr said.
That means pain during or after a run that doesn’t go away after a few days of rest should be addressed.
When an injury does occur, it’s important to get to the root cause.
“Usually, the injury is the symptom,” Kerr said.
Physical therapy can help speed the healing, but most overuse injuries require rest. That doesn’t mean you have to give up all activity, however.
“You have to find some way to cross train,” Kerr said. “Sometimes, it’s getting on the bike; sometimes it’s doing weightlifting or Pilates. There’s always something you can do.”
• Invest in good shoes and a foam roller: Work with a running store to find footwear that’s appropriate for your feet, and use a foam roller to address tightness and pain proactively.
• Be cautious about upping your mileage: Especially if you’re new to the sport, take your time when increasing miles.
“We tend to just want to go more and more,” Kerr said. “That’s a prime time for an injury.”
When it comes to running injuries, Kerr speaks from experience; she recently pulled her calf while running on vacation and is working hard to follow her own advice.
“I know that this will plague me for months if I don’t do it the right way,” she said. “Listen to your body, that’s the biggest thing, and don’t be afraid to take a day off.”
Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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