By: Richard Hansen, D.C.
Every run carries an increased level of importance. With the anticipation of race day looming, we try to balance the stress of each workout making sure not to push too much or train too little so we can perform at our best. Staying injury-free during this process is crucial both physically and mentally as we hope to prevent set-backs, meet our goals, and have fun in the process. Injuries happen, however, and are a part of almost every sport. Whether it’s a minor muscle strain or a serious injury, handling the set-back properly is key to staying on track.
So what happens if you do get injured? Running injuries are for the most part due to three factors: environmental or external influences, the runner’s specific biomechanics, and the training methods/workouts utilized. With any running injury it is important to 1) recognize what the injury is, 2) why it occurred, and 3) how to treat it.
Recognizing the Injury:
When identifying an injury, it is important to classify the stage the injury is currently in. Injuries typically fall into 4 different stages: 1) mild discomfort that does not inhibit or affect the ability to run comfortably and only lasts a few hours, 2) discomfort (not pain) occurring during running but still not significant enough to alter the level of training, 3) pain occurring during running that has caused a limitation in the level and duration of training, 4) pain significant enough that running is not possible. Although stage three and four injuries require more active treatment and attention, you should not ignore a stage one or two injury because they can progress to the next stage if not properly cared for.
How did the injury happen?
First you must decide whether the injury is truly running-related or is due to a past trauma that has become chronic and only noticed now when running. When initially evaluating a true running injury you need to determine if is because of your shoes. If injury occurs within 2 -3 weeks of changing running shoes, the new shoe might be the cause and returning to the previous model is the obvious treatment. However, if you have not recently switched to a new shoe, the next question should be: are my shoes worn out? Two important areas to check are the mid-sole and the heel-counter. A compacted midsole in front of the heel and in the forefoot could produce a running injury. Test the degree of forefoot compaction by slipping one hand inside the shoe and the other on the shoe’s sole. Squeeze the midsole between both hands. If the midsole does not noticeably depress, the midsole is compacted. To analyze the midsole at the heel, look at the shoe from behind. If the middle of the heel is significantly higher than the outer edges of the heel, then the midsole of the heel is compacted. To analyze the heel-counter, look at the heel again from behind. If the heel looks like it has been dragged to one side, then it has lost its rigidity and is worn out.
After looking at the wear of your shoes, it is also important to consider whether the shoes are the right biomechanical fit for your running style. Whether you tend to over-pronate, land flat-footed, or have a normal gait cycle, it is important to have the right style of shoes to match your biomechanics. Running shoes are designed to help correct the biomechanical flaws in our individual running styles and encourage a more energy efficient stride. If you are unsure of your running pattern or don’t know what type of shoe is best for you, consult with someone experienced in running biomechanics to help you identify the best fit.
Finally, it is important to consider whether your training methods have changed recently which could help explain the injury. A sudden jump in mileage, an increase in speed work, or a change in training surfaces without a proper adaptation phase can lead to injury. The most common solution is to return to your previous training methods/surfaces and to gradually return the suspected cause after the injury has passed. If all three of these possible causes are addressed, then it is very likely your injury can heal on its own. Simple changes, such as these, can often help around 60% of injuries heal within a few weeks, especially if they are in stage 1 or 2.
If an injury persists, it may be time to consult a practitioner experienced with treating running-related injuries for a more accurate diagnosis followed by a rehabilitation plan.