People who like to run can be susceptible to injuries, and it’s not just the experienced runners, many injuries happen to beginners even when they are running slowly and gently. Experienced runners exert their bodies so people understand why the injury occurs, but with beginners it can be as simple as using muscles that have not been used for a long time. It’s not just the physical injury to consider, many runners become de-motivated because they cannot run.
Here we have some tips to help avoid injury and what to do if you are unlucky enough to be injured. Always remember that if your body is in pain then there is a reason, stop running and only run once recovered. If it takes too long to recover then see a health professional.
The five most frequent running injuries are knee pain, achilles pain, shin pain, heel pain and muscle strains. The symptoms and their causes, including what to do if you get one are detailed below.
1. Knee pain
This is the most common injury most physiotherapists see. Sometimes it is known as runner’s knee, symptoms can be present because of many things but a common reason is swelling under the kneecap. If you experience knee pain you could feel pain anywhere around the knee and the pain may be dull or sharp. It’s a very general pain and the level of severity can vary considerably too.If it happens when you are running you should stop running and get home as soon as possible. Once home stretch your leg and apply an ice pack to the affected area. A handy tip can be to wrap frozen vegetables in a damp tea towel if no ice pack is available. Stretch your leg by laying on the side which does not have any pain and bend the bad leg backwards and hold it for about 45 seconds, if done correctly you will feel your thigh being stretched. Do this six times everyday.Severe pain or swelling means a visit to the local GP. A physiotherapist may be able to help if the pain is not severe. Stretching exercises which may help can also be recommended. Stop running and if there is no recovery within a week then go back to your health professional. Never run if your knee has pain, rest it for a week and assess it. If you still feel pain then see your GP. When you can run again depends on the reason and severity of your injury. Your GP or physiotherapist will talk to you. 2. Achilles pain
If you have pain at the back of your ankle then it may be the achilles tendon that has a problem. If you are a seasoned runner then you could be more likely to get this problem because running causes more wear and tear here over time. The achilles tendon is a strong, rubbery flex behind the ankle and joins the muscle to the bone. An injury here will cause pain and swelling at the back of the heel. Everyone is different and the types of pain are different in different people. Some have sharp and sudden pain while others just have an ache that is always there. Sometimes it is worse first thing in the morning. If the pain is sudden, sharp and severe then your achilles tendon may have torn. In this case you must go to your GP straight away.
If the injury is less severe then it sometimes responds to gentle massaging with your fingers, other times an ice pack will help. Some people use heel wedges in their shoes and that helps too. If after a month or so it hasn’t recovered then it’s time to see the doctor.
If the pain is sharp then it will stop you running anyway but if it’s not too painful, a rest will probably be beneficial and aid recovery.
3. Shin pain
The shin is the front part of the leg between the ankle and the knee, if there is any pain in this area then it’s known as shin pain. Often the pain is dull but if you do not stop running then it can become a sudden sharp pain. You won’t be able to run because of the severity of pain. The standard treatment is ice packs for the first couple of days and then two to three weeks rest. If the pain is intense, has swelling or recovery is not happening then you must go to a physio or GP. Generally with shin pain the athlete is unable to run even if he wants to.
4. Heel pain
Plantar fasciitis is the medical term for what we commonly know as heel pain. For whatever reason it has been caused, pain or swelling in the area of the heel can occur suddenly. Some of the more common reasons are more uphill running, shoes wearing out or badly fitting shoes which do not provide support. Common manifestations provide symptoms like needles being stuck into the heel or walking over very sharp stones. If you put weight on your heel the pain will be a lot worse.
A normal treatment is ice. Either rest your foot on an icepack or fill up a small plastic bottle with water and freeze it. You can then roll it back and forward on the sole and heel of the foot. Some stretching exercises may bring some respite. You must stop running and if there is a lot of swelling see your GP. If it is not that severe then wait two or three weeks before starting to run again.
5. Muscle strains
These relate to new runners much more often than seasoned runners. Generally if your muscles have not been used then they are more likely to get a strain. Hamstring muscles (which run down the back of the thigh) or calf muscles are the most common types of strains. When a muscle strains then the pain is sudden and you will want to stop running. It’s like a very sharp stab in the area of the strain. Usually you can self treat a strain. Ice pack the affected area for around twenty minutes 3 or 4 times everyday. There are benefits to keeping the leg elevated as this can reduce swelling. Strains can take a very long time to heal and you probably won’t be able to run in that time. You will know when it has healed, that is when to consider running again.
How to prevent injury
‘Prevention is better than cure’ goes the old saying and if you are a runner then it’s very true. An easy thing to do that reduces the risk of injury is to buy good quality running shoes that fit properly. Get them fitted in the shop, preferably a shop that specialises in sports shoes. But there is good news, expensive is not always best. Expensive shoes need not be better. Maybe they are more lightweight and perhaps longer lasting but there are many cheaper brands which are suitable for a novice or fun runner. The premium brands also make cheaper models.
Warming up before you go running is essential and if you are not fully warmed up then you are at greater risk of doing muscle damage. It will take your muscles between 5 and 10 minutes of gentle exercise like walking quickly or very gentle jogging before they warm up enough to prevent injury. Cooling down is equally important because it assists your body to recover after the exercise. It’s very easy to do, all that is needed is for you to keep running at a slower speed, again for five to ten minutes.
As with every sporting activity, build up gently and do not over do it. Don’t try to do too many miles or run too fast. It’s easy to try to stretch yourself too much but there is a good rule to keep you injury free. That is that you should always run the same distance at the same speed at least three or four times before even thinking about running faster or a longer distance. If you are a beginner then there is a plan called ‘The Couch to 5k Plan’. If you follow the plan you will run 3 times a week and be able to run 5 kilometres in nine weeks.
Motivation whilst injured
A big side issue with being injured is the frustration it causes, and how you respond to it. Some people just give up where others remain motivated. Some tips to help stay motivated are to have a running partner. Running is much more enjoyable with someone else. If you have an event or a race that you really want to take part in is also motivation for a quick recovery and return to running.