2011-06-22

The Marathon: Part XI - Treating Injuries Once They Happen

Despite our best efforts to mitigate against such things, we sometimes suffer running-related injury. Given all I have previously said about the importance of good running form and safe training habits, you may be reluctant to finally admit it if you experience a running injury.

But there is no need for that. Occasionally we type so much at work that our wrists and hands get tendonitis. Sometimes we burn or cut ourselves while cooking. Sometimes we trip and fall or skin our knuckles against something sharp. The bottom line is, you can't always avoid injury even if you do everything correctly. Injuries happen.

They happen, and they are no big deal, provided you take the appropriate course of action. Here are a few guidelines to keep you on track for Montreal, even if you injure yourself.

A Stitch In Time Saves Nine
Never was the adage truer than for running-related injuries. Generally speaking, pain means problems. Too often, runners accustom themselves to "running through the pain" and turn a small problem into a big one.

The impact of this is that what would have required a couple of days' treatment soon requires weeks. By "running through the pain," you end up costing yourself more valuable training time in the long run.

So, don't wait to treat your pain. As soon as you feel it, take the time to make an assessment and determine the best course of action. Do this in the middle of a run, if you have to. As soon as you feel the pain, assess it. Don't wait until later. Don't train through it. Figure it out and act. (If nothing else, you'll be more empowered.)

Shin Splints Don't Count
You can train through shin splints. Never worry about them. The pain subsides after a few strides. There is only one way to make the pain go away: toe taps. If you are doing toe taps regularly, you will not get shin splints. If you're not, start doing them. 200 toe taps per foot per day should suffice. Within a few days, your shin splints will be gone.

Tendonitis: A Quick-and-Dirty Treatment Guide
In general, the only cure for tendonitis is ice and rest. Your tendons are inflamed and you need to leave them alone for a while until they can heal.

When I was an NCAA athlete, my trainer suggested I take three regular-strength aspirin, three times per day, for no longer than a week. The aspirin reduces the swelling in your tendons. Such a recommendation is extremely hard on your liver and kidneys and should only be done under the watchful eye of a professional sports medicine practitioner. For what it's worth, I found this treatment to be highly effective.

As soon as you feel tendonitis coming on, stop running, walk home, and take a day off. If your legs still hurt the following day, take a week off. Trust me, you'll be better off if you put in the rest time and heal quickly. If you run through the pain, it won't be long before you will require 2-6 weeks of rest, rather than just one. Be smart about this.

Stress Fractures
While I've never had one myself, I can tell you that they are serious and require rest and inactivity to heal. There is nothing you can do. Get zen, get a good book, and bite the bullet. You're much better off letting your leg heal than subjecting yourself to an injury that could potentially ensure that you never run again.

Random Pains in Your Ankles, Calves, Knees, Etc.
Occasionally you may find minor pains that do not impact your performance much, but are highly annoying. Many of these can be traced to the fact that your shoes are worn out. If icing and aspirin (for a night) don't resolve the problem, consider whether it's time to buy a new pair of shoes.

Persistent Lower Back Pain
If you seldom do crunches or any kind of core exercises, you will discover that your lower back will start aching like a sprain. It will be a mild, persistent pain that improves with rest, but does not immediately subside when you stop running. It may seem counter-intuitive, but pain like this can be caused by weak abdominal muscles, and can be resolved by dedicating more time to doing crunches.