Dealing with -- and avoiding -- common running injuries

Credit: Stu Forster/Allsport
Its 6:30 a.m. and you head out for that favorite morning run to Smith Pond. Your feet glide over the terrain like a dragonfly over water. As you look down at your watch, you notice that youre about 10 seconds ahead of your usual time.

You pass the beaver dam at the foot of the pond as the sun begins to rise. Upon reaching the head of the pond you begin to make your way around the sharp corner when suddenly you slip hard.

Picking yourself up, you notice a sharp pain in your crotch every time you try to take a stride. Guess what? You just pulled your groin and have consequently earned a trip to the local sports medicine clinic.

Not all running injuries warrant an immediate visit to the doctor, though. Many conditions start as a mere ache only to evolve into a nagging pain over time. And while there are multiple causes for these aches and pains, there are multiple treatments and prevention techniques as well.

Knee conditions

Runners knee, also known as chondromalacia, is one of the most common running-related injuries. According to Jeff Oakey, a physician at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, its not uncommon for him to treat numerous cases each day.

I meet with several patients a day and Im only one physician," he says. "Multiply that by the number of physicians and facilities you get the picture."

Symptoms of runners knee are pain surrounding and occasionally behind the kneecap due to a breakdown of cartilage. Crunching and clicking are synonymous with this condition, too.

So how does it happen? Runners knee occurs when the patella (kneecap) is off track and/or rubbing against the sides of your femur. According to Kicksports, a leading media authority for runners, chondromalacia is most noticeable as runners approach 40 miles a week in training. Biomechanical reasons for this condition may be weakness in the thigh muscles and/or a lack of stability in the runners foot.

The simple treatment for this condition is to apply ice and take an anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen. If the condition worsens, consult a physician. To prevent the condition, Oakey suggests orthotics.

The foot is your foundation," he says. "Imagine building a house on a weak foundation. Custom orthotics will enhance stability, but there are even some decent and affordable products available in stores today.

Some brands include Working Man (www.workingmaninsole) and Superfeet (www.superfeet.com).

The second most common injury related to running is iliotibial band syndrome (IBS). Also known as the IT band syndrome, this condition is common in very active runners.

A sign of IBS is sporadic pain on the outside of your knee. This condition occurs at random times and can come and go quickly.

What causes it? The IT band, which is a tissue band spanning from the pelvis to the outer knee, may sometimes be too short and subsequently may cause discomfort. The band rubs against the thigh bone, and pain follows. This condition is usually brought about by overtraining and overuse.

Deep tissue massage, a reduction in mileage and concentrating on running over flatter surfaces all aid in treating IBS. To prevent this condition from materializing, do IT band stretches and leg lifts to strengthen the hips.

Foot problems

Although knee conditions are the most common running injury, your feet also take a pounding and are thus susceptible to damage. Here are some of the more common foot injuries related to running.

I think I have a rock in my shoe is a quick signal that you do in fact have a rock in your shoe, or even worse, a blister.

Unrelenting friction between your sock and shoe causes an inflammatory sore on the heel, toe etc. Your first instinct might be to pop the sucker, but if it isnt particularly painful, let it be, because an amateur surgery (you know what I mean: safety pin, sewing needle, paper clip) may invite infection.

Another nuisance is the dreaded corn, which results from incessant rubbing in a tight shoe. Much harder than a blister, corns can be dealt with by using an emery board and rubbing them away. Moleskin is also helpful in reducing continued friction.

And then, of course, there are bunion problems. The bunion is unwanted bone that connects to your big toe and sticks out the side of your foot. Generally caused by excessive weight-stress/distribution on the ball of your toe, this condition can only be fixed by a doctor. However, bunions can be manageable with the help of orthotics, new shoes and moleskin.

Another foot problem is the heel spur. This usually results from a sprain of your fascia (which forms the arch) which may have been pulled off your heel bone. This sprain leaves blood behind which may become calcified and ultimately become bone. These bone additions cause great discomfort at the front of the heel. Ice application and the use of heel pads may aid in recovery, but if the pain is too acute, see a podiatrist immediately.

Other injuries

Shin splints are the third most common injury related to running. Most runners are liable to get this condition at one time or another. The pain resonates from the front of your shins and the condition is usually facilitated by the presence of tight calf muscles working with weak shin muscles.

The strain on your front-leg muscles may be attributed to flat-footedness, running on flat surfaces or poor foot stability. Ice and Ibuprofen can help, but if the pain is constant and debilitating, you might have a stress fracture. If this is the case, then see a physician immediately.

Back at Smiths Pond, our runner seems to have a pulled groin. Usually this means the adductor muscle the muscle in the inner thigh that tightens and releases on differing terrain to maintain stability is damaged.

As in most groin-pull cases, this injury was caused by a sudden slip. The best way to beat this condition is to stop all rigorous physical activity for a few days. Stretching helps, but should not be done until the pain has subsided, otherwise you might further damage the pull or tear.

Last but not least is the phenomenon known as runners nipple raw and sometimes chafed nipples caused by friction of the first clothing layer. But why is it so painful? Simply enough, the salt in your sweat further irritates the chafed portion. To avoid this problem, apply some petroleum jelly before you jog.

All injuries to this point have been non-acute. More extreme conditions such as ACL tears, torn tendons, stress fractures and dislocations are all quite possible when running, but require more immediate attention by a doctor to be accurately treated. Furthermore, chronic pain of any kind warrants a call and visit to the clinic.

Oakey's advice to those of you who are out on the roads and trails every day: I think that the warm-up period is so important. Sometimes in cold weather, a short warm-up may cause more injury than the runner knows. Be steady in your workout, and dont over-amp yourselves.

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