While virtually every runner I work with has a unique story, there’s a common theme that comes up no matter who I am helping. Every runner wants to avoid injury while running at a high level. I always struggle with how to address this idea when it comes up.
I gently try to convey the obvious. Running is a high impact sport. Every footstrike generates 3-7 times your bodyweight in impact. Even the most biomechanically efficient runners on the planet with the best resources at their disposal find themselves sidelined on occasion. If you run long enough, you will inevitably be forced to deal with an injury.
But, virtually every aggravation or injury can be treated. If you’re aggressive and proactive in treating whatever is ailing you, your time away from running will hopefully be brief.
What I’ve tried to capture in this piece are some of the most common aggravations and injuries I’ve encountered and some ways to treat them. Please bear in mind, I’m not a medical professional. I would always recommend seeing a doctor if you’re dealing with something serious.
Soft tissue issues
The overwhelming majority of the complaints I field revolve around something soft tissue related. Most frequently, I’m helping my runners deal with unhappy muscles, tendons, or ligaments. Unhappy soft tissue is pretty common and if tackled quickly, can usually be remedied without any major ordeal.
There are numerous ways to treat an angry calf, a tight quad, or a complaining hamstring. Rest alone will likely not help you resolve the issue quickly. You need to take action.
For soft tissue issues, I often recommend some gentle stretching, self-massage, and applying heat to increase blood flow to the area in question. I’m also a huge believer in a quality sports massage and/or ART (Active Release Technique). Sometimes, just a few minutes getting some quality work done on the unhappy tissue can resolve the issue.
While it may cost you a few bucks to have a professional work on you, moving quickly on whatever is ailing you can get you back on the road (or trail) quickly.
One of the telltale signs you’re dealing with plantar fasciitis is a sharp pain in the bottom of your heel when you first get out of bed. This pain can dissipate after you’ve been walking around a bit and the fascia loosens up. But, the pain not infrequently returns if you keep walking or running on it. Plantar fasciitis can happen for a few reasons, but it occurs most often due to overuse.
I’d urge any runner to be careful about running through plantar fasciitis. It can become a chronic issue that lasts for months (or years). Getting rid of plantar fasciitis can be extremely difficult.
Stretching the fascia, lower leg, and achilles tendon can help to some degree with plantar fasciitis. ART can also help relieve some of the discomfort/pain that accompanies plantar fasciitis. Graston technique is also a treatment method that can help with plantar fasciitis.
I dealt with a terrible case of plantar fasciitis several years ago that simply refused to go away. I tried every conventional treatment method for more than six months and just couldn’t get rid of it. Frustrated, I did some additional digging and discovered dry needling.
Dry needling sounds terrible and it is uncomfortable. But, a single dry needling treatment had me running again pain free in a couple weeks. I’m not claiming this treatment method is for everyone, but it was effective for me and has been effective for others.
When one of my runners is complaining of discomfort or pain, I always ask what kind of pain we’re talking about. Is it dull/aching? Does it wax/wane? If the answer is ‘yes’ to these two questions, it’s likely we’re dealing with something soft tissue related.
But, if the pain is described as intense, searing, shooting, or nauseating, we’re likely not dealing with something soft tissue related. Pain like this is probably something more serious. In my experience, this kind of pain can be tied to a stress fracture.
I’ve dealt with a few stress fractures, including a complete compression fracture of the left femoral head, a stress fracture of the right femur, a stress fracture of the right sacrum, and a few others. The pain signature of a fracture is pretty unmistakable. It doesn’t wax and wane based on level of activity. It’s a constant, debilitating pain that you can’t run through.
Stress fractures suck. A sports massage, ART, or similar soft tissue treatment modalities won’t help a stress fracture heal. You might get some relief from the pain by getting some work done on the tissues around the fracture, but this relief will likely be temporary.
Stress fractures largely just require time to heal. Most of the time, a stress fracture needs 6-8 weeks to heal. During this period, try to maintain your fitness via cross-training (cycling or swimming).
You can take NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to help manage pain while dealing with a stress fracture. But, aside from rest, there’s not much you can do to expedite the healing process. If you’re not already eating a balanced diet and consuming calcium, doing so can’t hurt the healing process.
Similar to plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury. Achilles tendonitis is marked by inflammation and discomfort right above the back of the heel. If you’re not sure if this is what is ailing you, just apply a little pressure to the achilles right above the heel. If it complains, you may be dealing with tendonitis.
Just like plantar fasciitis, you want to be very careful about running through achilles tendonitis as it can evolve into something chronic. So, cutting back on your running is definitely a good idea. But, rest alone is likely not going to be enough to get rid of it.
Icing and using NSAIDs can help bring down inflammation of the tendon. Doing some gentle stretching and massage of the calves can help with tendonitis. There’s some evidence that suggests eccentric calf strengthening can help with achilles tendonitis.
Virtually all of the injuries I’ve incurred have been associated with not listening to what my body is telling me. So, my biggest piece of advice when it comes to avoiding a serious setback is to listen to the messages your body sends you. Don’t push through something that is painful or feels off!
Want to hear more from Marathon Matt? Find out more about his coaching and running experience at www.marathonmatt.com!