Universal Truths about Running Injuries
Some posts this week at Runners’ Lounge, including Take It and Run Thursday, are dedicated to running injuries.
Injuries are a major blow to a runner. We’re caught off guard and the timing is always rotten. When injured, we tend to do dumb things—run through it, self-diagnose, ignore the cause, and ultimately delay our actual recovery. I’ve lived a very fortunate runners’ life, but not free of injury. Below are some universal truths I've discovered about running injuries.
We own responsibility for our active recovery
Not every injury is our fault. But we do govern the details of our recovery. The minute we’re injured, the body starts healing, even though it doesn’t always feel that way. We can accelerate the process with cross training, sleeping well, eating well, and fueling our minds with positive thoughts.
We also need to stop being our own worst enemy by coming back too soon using the old excuse of “running a little just to see how it feels.” A premature return to running is generally a double setback. It’s like pulling up plants to check if the roots are still growing. Yup, they're growing, but now the plant's natural progress is traumatized. Couldn't I just leave the content plant—or my injury—to rest?
Beware of amateur diagnosis
We may refer to an injury by a common name, but it ain’t necessarily so. A friend thought he was battling plantar fasciitis after another runner had convinced him he had it. After asking a few questions, it was clear to me he didn’t have PF. Instead he had Achilles tendonitis. I assured him there is a difference, but that he should have it confirmed. So the lesson here is one runner’s pain is not identical to another’s. For example there is a bucket full of types of knee pain, and the sooner we find out what it is, then the cause, the sooner we can correct it.
May strength be your guide
Many injuries can be prevented or treated with more strength. As runners, we are prone to building muscle imbalance. The range of motion in running builds Everests out of some muscles and reduces other muscles to silly putty. A brilliant PT once explained to me an injury related to four muscles in my calf. The two inside muscles were the problem, but the outside two muscles were not. So the PT taught me to apply the “muscle buddy” system, by strengthening the healthy buddy muscles around the sore muscles. After a few days of recruiting the healthy muscles to help out the inflamed muscles, the pain went away. Since then I’ve learned to strengthen all muscles in the area of soreness. Which leads me to the next truth.
The most important stuff I know about muscles I’ve learned related to an injury. In those runner crises I’ve learned to identify—and sometimes even pronounce—which muscles are upset with me, the difference between a pull, a strain, and soreness etc. When I’m healthy, I run naively along ignoring what’s going on. When I’m injured, a chart of the muscular-skeletal system is my friend.
When we're injured, we're often nasty. Filled with frustration and impatience, we're miserable company. Later, we're indebted with gratitude when we finally nail the cause and remedy to an injury. Injuries humble us with so much to learn. Great resourcea on the topic of injuries are the Healthy Runner's Handbook and The Competitive Runner’s Handbook. Both discuss:
- Questions to Ask When Injured
- Warning Signs For Injury
- Psychological Aspects of Injury—Denial, Anger, Depression, and Acceptance
- Specific Treatments for Common Injuries—the questions to ask when Injured
Find and make maximum use of the BEST physical therapist
An awesome physical therapist is worth his/her weight in gold. The key is finding the right one. Ask around until you find a PT who is also a runner or who serves the bulk of runners in your community.
- A good physical therapist is capable of diagnosing an injury and treating you on the spot and sending you on your way with exercises to recover.
- A great physical therapist will also educate you to understand your injury, its cause, and how to reduce the chances of it recurring.
- The best physical therapist will do everything possible to keep you running while you’re rehabbing .
Reading about running injuries is like reading a lover's diary detailing a break up. Still, we learn a lot from each others, and we believe this week’s focus on running injuries will be enlightening and helpful.