Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pain on the Pavement: Dealing with Running Injuries

I have had my fair share of injuries from running and all three of them were my own fault. I knew what was sensible and what I should do but let's face it I was just being dumb, plain and simple. I was a firm believer in no pain, no gain but that's not the best motto in the running world. Or in any fitness for that matter, especially when it's true pain and not just pushing yourself through a good workout.

But I've learned from my mistakes and I'm not nearly as strict as I used to be. I realized that if I want to keep up with running and the rest of my workouts then I actually have to preserve my body now to make sure my young habits don't come back to bite me later on.

***Before I go on please keep in mind I am not a professional. What I'm writing about is strictly based off my own experience, the opinion of my doctors, and my own research. This post is only meant to provide you with information about common injuries from running. I am in no way claiming that each of these will work for you or that it will cure your injury. The sole purpose is to be informative and compile some resources for you guys. I'm not a doctor and I don't know what injury you might be dealing with so please consult your physician before trying any of these methods.***

So, two common injuries that I dealt with are shin and knee pain. This is certainly not going to be an exhaustive list of injuries but I'll mainly talk about my experience with my injuries and how I recovered. Plus, I've also included some articles that might help point you in the right direction. Again make sure you talk to your doctor or physical therapist first!

First and foremost if you experience any unusual pain while running then promptly STOP RUNNING. Sounds like common sense, right? But let me tell you there was a time when I would run the miles I had set my mind to, no matter what. I hate to admit this but I have run several and I mean several miles while in severe pain because I wanted to finish my run. I figured I would deal with the pain once I got back but my priority at that moment was to get my run in because if not I would fail and that meant I was weak. The mantra of "no pain, no gain" would be running through my head, feeding my pride and stubbornness. Well you can imagine that didn't help my injuries in the slightest.

1. IT Band Pain
In December 2011, I injured my right knee pretty severely and didn't know exactly what it was but I figured I would deal with it on my own. Luckily, it was an injury that could be remedied at home: heat, stretching, and rest. At the time, though, I wasn't willing to take the time and care my knee needed to fully heal.

The day I injured my knee was a run like any other run. I didn't fall or land on my foot funny, it just happened. My sister and I were over halfway into our run and suddenly I got a weird burst of heat on the outside of my right knee. It wasn't that painful but felt sort of abnormal. I brushed it off though and we finished another 3 miles. By the time we got home and I showered, I was limping. I never had this severe of pain before and my sister suggested I take several rest days maybe even weeks.

I wasn't willing to take that much time off of running so I allowed myself two rest days and decided that I would pick it back up like nothing happened. This resulted in a 3-month long battle of the pain suddenly resurfacing at any time during a run. And I'm talking real pain, bursts of heat and then shooting pains running up and down on the outside of my right knee. I would be limping during my run but figured I might as well finish because I was already out for my run. When I got home, I would stretch it a lot and apply heat and ice in intervals for an hour twice a day. Then I would go running the next day and it would be fine for another few days.

When I went to my doctor about my shin pain, I asked him about my knee out of curiosity and he was able to explain. After examining my knee, he told me it was my IT band which is a large tendon in your leg that runs from your hip down past your knee. It's not uncommon for runners to develop this pain, especially if you run a lot of hills. Since Oakmont is one giant hill and Oakland wasn't much better, it wasn't surprising that I had been injured. He told me to do pretty much what I had already done with the stretching, ice, and heat except this time to give it adequate rest, too. To read more about IT band pain check out these articles from Active and Athletico

2. Shin Splints
The other two injuries that I dealt with were shin-related.When I went in for my right shin in March 2012, my sports doctor originally thought it was another stress fracture (I had one in high school in my left shin) just based off looking at it from the surface. He wanted to be sure, though, and scheduled an MRI. The results showed that it was a very severe shin splint that was just on the verge of becoming a fracture. Which means I lucked out and managed to squeak by. My doctor, however, said I needed physical therapy because my shin and knee problems were stemming from weak hips. It was creating a ripple effect down my leg because my knee and shins were trying to compensate for the instability from my hips not being able to control the motion of my leg as I ran. I likely had this problem in high school as well but my previous doctor only had me be on crutches for 6 weeks without any physical therapy. So when I picked running back up in college, my hips were still weak.

At physical therapy they worked with me on strengthening my hips and gave me plenty of exercises to do at home. I'll share some of those exercises because they helped me immensely. Even if you don't have any injuries, it's always a good idea to do some of these for prevention. I kept up with these for a year after my original injury just to make sure my hips were strong enough. Now with all the lifting I do I get plenty of strength exercises for my hips and glutes that I don't necessarily have to do these old exercises anymore. Still, it's nice to know that if I start experiencing that pain again I know what I have to do and I know that I will do it.

Here are some of the exercises my therapist had me do:
1. Single Leg Bridge
- Lie on your back with your feet hip distance apart. Keep one knee bent but extend your other leg straight. Push your weight into your heel as you lift your hips off the floor to create a "bridge" while simultaneously lifting the extended leg straight in the air. Hold for 5 seconds and then lower your leg and hips back to the floor. Do 10 reps on one leg and then repeat on the other side. Progressively add in more reps as your hips get stronger. By the end of physical therapy they had me doing over 50 per leg.
Courtesy of Google Images

2. Side-lying Leg Lift 
- Lie on either your right/left side with your legs straight. Raise your top leg into the air as high as you can get it to go. Slowly lower it back to the floor before lifting it into the air again. Do 20 reps per side. Once you get up to 30 per leg then add in ankle weights to make it more difficult (if you have weights). If you don't have weights then just continue to increase your reps. 

Courtesy of Google Images

3. Stair Leg Lower (Front)
- Stand on the bottom stair of a staircase and extend your right foot so that it comes off the stair. Bend your left knee as you lower your right heel to tap the floor, keeping your right foot flexed. Just lightly touch the floor so that your weight will still stay all on your left leg. DO NOT let your left knee cave in to the right as it tries to support your weight. Make sure your left knee stays firmly in place as it requires strength from your hip to do that. Otherwise, you'll end up hurting your left knee and it won't work your left hip. Start out with 15 reps but try to work up to 45. Repeat with the other side and make sure you keep your knee straight. 
*note: make sure to look straight ahead while doing this one. It's hard because you'll want to check that your knee is in the proper position but try to look down only every once in awhile. If you have a mirror it's even better because then you won't have to look down. After a few reps you'll get the feel of when your knee is in the right or wrong position. My therapist always scolded me for looking down during this set because then it would affect my running form later on. 

4. Stair Leg Lower (Side) 
- Stand on the bottom stair of a staircase but this time turn to the side so that your left foot is running against the edge of the stair and you have to hold your right foot in the air. Bend your left leg as your lower your right foot to the floor and gently tap the floor with the top of your foot while still keeping all your weight in your left leg. Again, DO NOT let your left knee cave to the right as it tries to hold your weight. Trust me, it will automatically try to do this but it's crucial that you keep your knee in position, over top of your ankle and in line with the rest of your leg. Start out with 15 per leg and increase your reps in increments of 5 as you get stronger. 

Courtesy of Google Images
These are only a couple of exercises that I did at therapy but others included: single leg squats, forward and reverse lunges, weights, resistance band training, and working on the ski machine. Like I said consult your doctor because they can tailor a program to fit your individual needs. For more information about shin splints check out these articles from Runner's World and Active

I don't want to keep this post that much longer for your guys' sake but I've included some links to more information. Most of the injuries are repetitive but I like how each article has different sources and cites various professionals on the topic so that always opens more avenues to explore. 

10 Running-Specific Strength Training Exercises

Stay safe out there and happy running!

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