So the longer you run I think the better you get to know your body, its niggles, aches and pains and basically when and how to treat such injuries. Some people rarely suffer from a chronic injury and the others seem to always have a knee brace, rock tape, thigh pad, you name it on when running. Sometimes in an attempt to honour the infamous “prevention is better than cure”!! and “better safe than sorry!!” And other times due to injury, plain and simple. I think the harder we train and the more we experiment with our endurance boundaries, the more we learn whats an actual injury and whats something we can just run through and will work itself out later. Ya know stop complaining and get on with it!!
But how do we get to that stage??
I was inspired by a friend to write this article, who has begun up-ing her training for a first half marathon and suffered a foot injury after adding a few extra mile for the first time, she asked my advice and I gave her the standard RICE, rest see how it goes etc. But she posed a very good question to me ‘how do I know when its a serious enough injury that more training may cause long term affects or to just suck it up!!and run’??? Very good and reasonable questions so I searched my own soul (no pun intended!!) and experience to come up with some answers.
Whether you are a season runner or just beginning to start training and running consistently, you have or will encounter this scenario. You’re in good shape, you’re enjoying your run and suddenly something hurts. How do you know whether to run through it – crying ‘no pain, no gain’ – or to rest for five minutes; whether to walk home slowly and immediately or go straight to Accident & Emergency?
I am going to attempt to help you in your decision making. I am going to provide a list of some common injuries and what and how to deal with them etc. But always listen to your body, don’t be a hero if your body is genuinely telling you to slow down or take a rest. Learn your queues.
There are a few general rules you can apply to pain. If something hurts so badly you can’t walk on it, its not rocket science my friends don’t try to run on it!!! Having said that, you learn to recognise your own body’s signs of pain – such that you can run through heavy legs, for example, this is something you just need to accept from a scientific point of view and get on with it. You’ll learn to recognise this feeling of lactic acid build-up by experience, and because the symptoms tend to come on gradually. Its normal and a joyous part of running 🙂
In some cases, if you feel pain on a training run it’s grand to stop and stretch, and reasses your speed, terrain etc and perhaps change the surface you’re running on, head up ontp a trail or perhaps get off a trail. Go to the other side of the road, and see if it makes any difference. In a race it can be a bit more difficult, obviously and the best immediate option in a race is to try changing your pace either up or down for a couple of minutes, breathe and just relax, its not the end of the world.
Once you get home, the age ol’ RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). It is a principle worth applying to almost any injury. If the pain hasn’t disappeared the next day, don’t try to run on it. The only time it can be beneficial to run through pain is during rehabilitation when you may need to overcome a little initial stiffness to regain the muscle’s flexibility. Tread lightly!! (pun intended!!!)
If you’ve done all this and yet the symptoms persist, you need to re-assess and your next option may be to see a GP or a physio therapist or massage therapist. Sometimes a massage can really help if its an injury thats needs “working out”.
Educating runners is important. Typically runners only wait two months after an injury before seeing a doc, rather than six, as was the norm. (I am sure the doc would prefer you to come in 2 days after it happened!!!but unless its severe most of us runners won’t!!)
Its common to try and deal with injuries yourself and sometimes it works sometimes it doesnt. It def pays to listen to a loved one or impartial party who says ‘stop being stupid make time and go to the doctor!’. So keep that in mind.
You run the risk of an injury becoming chronic and much harder to treat if you leave a serious injury untreated for more than 48 hours, so you will be able to judge levels of severity, ranging from uncomfortable to downright insanely unbearable. Any medic would prefer you came to see them sooner rather than later.
If an injury hurts so much you can’t even put weight on it, it’s probably a serious one, and you should get advice immediately.
What about pain in a race. It’s just not realistic to stop and stretch out every niggle when you’re in a competitive environment. Some pains come and go within a couple of miles and you never know what caused them, but if a pain (rather than a tired ache) gets continually worse during a race, you should take it seriously. Better to ease off and try again in a fortnight than to be laid off completely for a month. VERY IMPORTANT TIP!!!
So without further a-do:
Lower back pain:
Ask yourself, Is the pain… one that’s been developing over a few days or even weeks?
If so… it’s a typical lower-back problem that starts off as a low-risk ache and becomes more dangerous if it goes untreated and the pain increases. If you feel a sudden back pain, it’s more likely to be serious.
You should… stop and stretch. If the pain gets worse, abandon your run and seek treatment. Most lower-back pain has a specific cause that you need to address before it gets better.
Ask yourself, Is the pain… a numbness?
If so… it could be due to poor blood circulation.
You should… loosen your shoelaces, and wiggle your toes a bit as you run. When you get home, apply RICE if necessary, and seek help if the numbness continues.
Is the pain… a crescendo pain (one that starts off mildly and gradually increases as you run)?
If so… it could be a stress fracture.
You should… take it seriously. The foot is complex and a delicate structure. You should walk home and see a specialist asap.
Is the pain… a blister forming?
You should… aim to minimise the friction against your skin. Putting a tissue around the area can be a good ad-hoc way of relieving pressure – as can applying a generous quantity of spit.
Is the pain… tolerable enough to run on?
If so… the body’s natural endorphins will be helping to mask the pain and you can carry on if you have to. However, this tends to further damage the ligaments in the area and make you more susceptible to another twist. If the pain is intense or the joint is swollen, you shouldn’t try to restart your run at all. Go home and RICE, elevate it and try to keep it mobile without causing further pain.
Is the pain… a dull ache under the kneecap?
If so… it’s probably runners knee (in which the kneecap doesn’t move properly across the bones it rests on, often due to a muscle imbalance).
You should… try running in the same direction on the opposite side of the road (to change the camber); move onto a softer surface; or stride out for a while to free up the knee joint. You can also try changing your shoes. If the pain persists, book an appointment with a physiotherapist, because it will only get worse.
Is the pain… around the knee on the outside of the leg, and coming on slowly with each stride?
If so… it’s likely to be iliotibial band syndrome (an inflammation of the long fibrous tissue that extends from the hip along the side of the upper leg.
You should… stop and stretch the area (try the standing stretch in which you cross your feet and extend one side of your body upwards until you feel a stretch around your hip). Also, try running on the opposite side of the road. Get a diagnosis if the pain doesn’t go.
Is the pain… just below the kneecap?
If so… err on the side of caution and take it to be a patellar tendon strain.
You should… jog gently home and apply the RICE treatment. As with any tendon strain, running through it is asking for trouble.
If it still hurts the next day, have it looked at. Acute tears can require weeks in plaster, and in most cases recovery is likely to take months rather than weeks.
Is the pain… sharp?
You should… determine the sort of sharp pain it is. If it’s a cramp, rest for a couple of minutes and massage the area. Having a drink, especially a sports drink containing electrolytes, will also help.
If it’s more of a sudden tightness, in the calf for example, stretch the muscle, and again, massage the area. Continuing to run without taking action just makes a tear more likely.
N.B: If the pain means you can’t run without limping with each step, you’ve torn the muscle. Stop, walk home and apply the RICE treatment.
Is the pain… an ache?
You should… drop your pace and think about turning home if there’s a chance that it’s the recurrence of a chronic injury. In this case your running style or shoes could be the problem, so expert advice is recommended. If the ache is all over your legs, you’re just tired – so dig in, it’s good for you!
Is the pain… a radiant pain which spreads along a muscle, especially in the upper leg?
You should… stretch the whole muscle, including the area at the top of it, because the pain is likely to be caused by a tightness. You could be suffering the effects of a slipped disc, which you feel in your thigh, for example. Treatment by a physiotherapist, an osteopath or a chiropractor is essential, because no matter how much you stretch, the problem won’t go away until you address the cause.
Is the pain… more of an ache, and only occurring with each deep breath you take?
If so… it’s just likely to be fatigue in your chest muscles and/or your ribs.
You should… slow down until the pain clears.
Is the pain… spreading to your neck and shoulders, or being accompanied by severe sweating or faintness?
If so… it could be heart-related.
You should… stop immediately and hope that someone is nearby to help. If it’s a heart attack, you probably won’t be able to do much to help yourself!!!
If the pain has gone after two minutes, it was probably nothing serious, but in any case, it is worth a precautionary check-up. Maybe invest in a heart rate monitor if your find this a re-occuring issue.
Is the pain… across your diaphragm (the sheet of muscle that separates your guts from your lungs) rather than in your chest?
If so… relax (literally). It’s just a stitch.
Also be mindful of the weather, being too hot, too cold,, over heated, too many layers not enough layers, city running with fumes, pollen count etc. Be prepared.
In conclusion, these are just some common injuries and how they feel and how to deal with them. But in the long run (sorry about so many genuinely unintended puns!!!) you will need to get to know your body better through running and learn from it. The only way to do so is to completely trust your body to run and give you a signal if it is in de-stress. Always seek more advice to better understand how to prevent and treat injuries. Its important to leave your comfort zone and push yourself because if you don’t you will never know how far you can go, but look after your body and treat it well.
You will at some stage push it too far at the very least ONCE and you must learn from that and every other time you do it. Mistakes help us learn and better ourselves. Its tough to stop running when your so passionate about it, but sometimes its best to just stop and re-assess.
Happy safe injury free running everyone and happy christmas.