Maybe it’s running to get in shape or a desire to race like an Olympian. Whatever the goal or reason, Harris County Hospital District physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists have some tips to help runners stay on track.
As a beginner, take it slow and easy, and as a more experienced runner, don’t overdo it.
Injuries can creep up at any point of training and occur when people don’t recognize their abilities and limitations. A pain, especially a nagging ache, can be a signal of something serious.
“Aches and pains are normal when you run. Most pains that are muscular or tendon related tend to improve once you’re warmed up. Feelings in your leg that get worse as you run farther are concerning for a more series problem and are usually a good warning sign to get checked out. That’s usually a good warning sign to get it checked out,” says Dr. John Harrell, director, Musculoskeletal Ultrasound, Quentin Mease Community Hospital, and assistant professor, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Baylor College of Medicine.
He cautions that pains that last for more than 2-3 runs and persist after a week free of running should be checked out by a physician.
“Your injury may not recover 100 percent, but it should be a lot better if you rest a little and stretch the area out. Anything that leads to swelling, changes skin color or makes it difficult to bear weight should be evaluated by a medical professional,” Harrell adds.
Dana Tew, PT, doctor of physical therapy and program manager, Physical Therapy Orthopaedic Residency Program, Quentin Mease Community Hospital, agrees and urges runners to use common sense.
“With every exercise, be smart about what you’re doing. If you’ve never run before, talk to your doctor about it and listen to his or her advice,” he says.
To illustrate the importance of getting a clean bill of health from a doctor, a study published this year in the New England Journal of Medicine found many marathon runners who suffered heart attacks during their running could have been identified before developing symptoms if they had undergone a basic cardiac stress test.
“Don’t assume you can run a marathon if you’ve never trained before. Longer runs require lots of training; with runners building many miles a week to properly prepare. Also, consider that a physical therapist can detect muscle imbalances, joint restrictions and other steps to minimize possible injuries,” Tew adds.
Some common sidelining injuries include:
- Foot and Heel: Foot and heel pain are some of the most common injuries. Initially reduce running time and distance. They’re usually the result of overuse and can be fixed with a combination of stretching and strengthening.
- Achilles and Calves: Achilles and calf injuries require rest and ice. Don’t stretch. The muscle and tendon are injured. Stretching only causes more swelling. Instead focus on exercising the ankle and foot with no resistance. Once the pain is reduced, add some resistance by doing weighted toe raises, jumping jacks or jumping rope.
- Knees:Knee injuries are usually caused by overtraining and weak hip muscles. Knee injuries commonly occur when runners increase their distance too rapidly. The best thing to do is stop running for a few days and do exercises to strengthen the hips and stomach. Cross training like riding a bike or swimming rests the knee without sacrificing fitness.
- Hips: Hip injuries usually require people to stop or cut down running. Walking may be a better option. In most cases, hip pain will go away after a few days of rest. However, make sure to do exercises to strengthen hips, legs, calves and ankles to keep in running shape.
Remember, if pain and discomfort continue or if the injury starts affecting normal daily walking or standing functions, see a doctor or a physical therapist.