Everyone knows that cardio is great for getting in shape and building lean muscle, but running long distance can *definitely* wreak havoc on your body. So before you sign up for a Harry Potter-themed running club or start pounding the treadmill at your local gym, it’s best to know the warning signs of overexerting yourself before you end up with a permanent injury. That’s why we chatted with Dr. Henry Goitz, MD, academic chief of sports medicine in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Detroit Medical Center Detroit Receiving Hospital, to learn all about typical running injuries and how we can best treat them at home. Just remember that if your pain persists, you should contact your physician as soon as possible.
1. Runner’s Knee (AKA Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome): Patellofemoral pain syndrome (say that five times fast!) is the technical term for pain in your knees while running. “There are several conditions about the kneecap [where] runners will experience symptoms,” says Dr. Goitz. “The most common is at the bottom of the kneecap called patellar tendonitis, or jumper’s knee. In this condition, the patellar tendon at the bottom of the kneecap has been overloaded, inflamed, and is causing pain. Other conditions include chondromalacia patella, in which articular cartilage on the underside of the kneecap has begun to break down.”
How to Treat It: If you’re experiencing knee pain, the best thing you can do is strengthen your thigh muscles, suggests Dr. Goitz. “With strong quads and thighs, each step that the runner takes gets distributed to the surrounding muscles as opposed to the kneecap itself, much like how the shock absorber on a car would distribute and dampen impulses from going over bumps.” While daily exercises can help, Dr. Goitz advises speaking with your local physician if your pain worsens to the point where it hurts to walk.
2. Achilles Tendinitis: Unfortunately, even us non-Greek gods can have problems with our Achilles. “Achilles tendinitis is the overload of the tendon at the bottom of the calf muscle at the insertion near the heel bone,” notes Dr. Goitz. It’s actually a fairly common injury for runners and athletes of all sorts.
How to Treat It: It’s time to start stretching, lady. “When the symptoms are so significant in which it’s both difficult to walk and run, I strongly recommend one seeks medical advice,” says Dr. Goitz. “However, some of the other tricks for improving symptoms before seeing a physician might be to put a heel lift in one’s sneakers, or find shoes that have extra thickness at the back to support the heel and reduce load during heel-toe push-off while running.”
3. Hamstring Issues: One of the most common injuries that runners suffer from is a hamstring pull or strain. “Those who experience hamstring strains will, most of the time, have pain either near the buttock area up toward the pelvis, or down toward the knee area,” notes Dr. Goitz.
How to Treat It: According to Dr. Goitz, there’s a number of things you can do at home to treat hamstring issues. Along with adequate stretching, increased strengthening of the thigh muscles, and proper warm-ups and cool-downs, try regularly using foam rolling exercises too. But if the pain persists, you should definitely get in touch with your doc, advises Dr. Goitz.
4. Plantar Fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain. It’s super common in runners and, according to Dr. Goitz, can “be precipitated by a worn-out sneaker or existing tightness within the plantar fascia (which is the connective tissue that runs from the heel to the toes).”
How to Treat It: The at-home treatment for plantar fasciitis is to stretch the plantar fascia regularly, according to Dr. Goitz. “The way to do that is to take your toes and gently bend them back toward you. A folded towel wrapped around your toes like an exercise strap can be just as effective. Regular icing, stretching, and a cushioned heel could also improve some of the symptoms of plantar fasciitis.”
5. Shin Splints: “Shin splints can be very debilitating to a runner. This is essentially inflammation of the tissue surrounding the shinbone (tibia) caused by ‘bone overload.’” But before you visit your GP, you should know: “Shin splints can oftentimes be misdiagnosed due to the difficulty in distinguishing what constitutes shin splints versus stress fractures of the tibia.” Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions!
How to Treat It: Good news, ladies! “Shin splints can be very well managed with toe raises, ice, exercise strap pushes and pulls, stretching and massage.” However, if the pain persists to the point where you can’t exercise anymore, it’s VERY important that you consult a physician. “This is the one condition of the six discussed whereby it’s very important for the physician to distinguish between typical shin splints or the much more serious stress fractures,” notes Dr. Goitz. “A stress fracture that persists can be quite debilitating and can force one from running for several months until healed.”
6. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS): “Iliotibial band syndrome occurs when the ligament extending all the way from the pelvic bone to the top of the tibia becomes very tight and inflamed,” says Dr. Goitz.
How to Treat It: Stretching, stretching, and more stretching. “If not properly stretched and strengthened, irritation and inflammation can become more and more severe,” says Dr. Goitz. “It’s very important when experiencing pain on the lateral side (outside) of the knee to consider regular stretching, which will improve the ability to mitigate symptoms while maintaining an active lifestyle.”
Are you a cardio junkie at the gym? Tweet us your best tips to prevent and treat injuries @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)