With the immediate benefits of running not only felt by runners but backed by science, it’s no wonder runners take to the streets with boundless enthusiasm in the spring. But be warned, going too hard, too soon can lead to a shortened season.
“Most running injuries are a result of overuse and muscle fatigue. This is called the ‘Rule of Too’s’: going too long, too hard, too much, or too soon,” says chiropractor Andrew Miners, FRCCSS(C), FCCPOR(C), Director of Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation and a specialist in sport injury and physical and occupational rehabilitation.
Dr. Miners also offers these tips to avoid common injuries:
In new runners, the most common injuries are knee pain and shin pain . In more experienced runners, it’s stress fractures. What’s encouraging for everyone is that the pain and inflammation is preventable and treatable, and running pain-free is possible.
What is it: Barring tears, rips or other structural damage, knee pain is often a form of patellofemoral pain syndrome. That’s when the area around the patella, or knee cap, is inflamed or irritated.
What you can do: Stay the course but switch your routine. Depending on the extent of the pain, recovery can take up to six weeks. So switching to lower impact exercise may be one strategy. If you are able to run with pain that does not progress, or goes away, you can keep running.
When to see a specialist: “If the pain is obvious as soon as you push off,” says Dr. Miners. “Or the pain limits your ability to run.”
What is it: A sharp or achy pain in the shin and lower leg indicates an inflammatory tissue response usually caused by long runs on hard surfaces.
What you can do: Take it easy if the pain is persistent. “Rest and ice to let it heal,” says Dr. Miners. If running without extensive pain is possible, re-evaluate your running approach. “Cut your runs and build up gradually. Adjust your duration and intensity, and evaluate your mechanics,” says Miners.
“Pain is a positive alarm for all of us, not just runners,” says Dr. Miners. “It’s a sign that you are starting to breach that tissue threshold. Listen to your body and remember to build up tolerance by gradually loading endurance during the runs. You can keep running, if you are able to run without progressive pain or the pain subsides.”
When to see a specialist: Dr. Miners says shin splits can sometimes mask stress fractures, which are injuries to the outer layer of bone. Speak to your health-care provider to get specific guidance once a fracture is considered. Be prepared to rest for around a month or so to completely recover.
What is it: It’s been said that runners account for about two-thirds of all stress fracture cases. For any high mileage runner, stress fractures are a risk. They are most commonly found near the runner’s fifth toe or metatarsal, or near the shin and are tiny breaks to the outer layer of bone.
What you can do: Get a professional opinion. If it’s early onset, which is when you want to catch it before it gets worse, an X-Ray may help but it can’t confirm a fracture 100 per cent of the time. If it’s a fracture, accept that running is off limits for a while, otherwise, it will never get better.
When to see a specialist: If you have substantial bruising or swelling in a particular area; if the pain is intense or worsens as you run. If the pain after your run is persisting and evident when you aren’t running.