Ask the Experts: Prevent Injuries

Photo by Tim Tadder

I'm a new runner and would like to increase my training mileage, but I've heard this can cause injuries. How can I prevent them and what symptoms should I look out for?

Runners who ramp up their training too quickly are my No. 1 source of patients. Most injuries that occur in running are termed "overuse" injuries, defined as repetitive damage caused by increasing training mileage or time without allowing enough time for muscles to heal in between workouts. This type of injury can also occur when running with muscle weaknesses, improperly supported feet or a leg-length discrepancy.

To prevent overuse injuries, get the right shoes for your feet. In general, your running shoes need to do two jobs: support your feet and maintain alignment. While most shoes can do both, you may need arch support or custom-made orthotics to help improve your gait.

With the right shoes and a training routine to strengthen leg muscles, preventing overuse injuries is easy. The key to success is simple: Allow enough time or recovery. The old adage, "start low, go slow" applies here. Increase your mileage by no more than 10 percent a week.

If you do ramp up your training too quickly, you risk injuring your bones or tendons. An overuse injury of the bone results in a stress fracture. Overuse of the tendons is referred to as endonitis, or tendonopathy.

In the early course of tendonopathy, pain may actually reduce with exercise. But as you continue to exercise, the damage becomes more than the body can repair, and you may feel pain even at rest.

There are several things that you should do when you suspect you have an overuse injury:

Don't ignore it. It's easy to deny you have an injury, especially when you're working toward a specific goal. Taking care of an overuse injury sooner allows you to miss less training time, not more.

Many overuse injuries are insidious; they start as mild pain or pain after running and progress to injuries that are painful at all times. If you get beyond the initial phase of pain, it can take a long time to recover from the injury.

Rest. You don't have to stop exercising, but you may need to switch to a form of exercise that doesn't cause pain, such as cycling, swimming, core strengthening or using the elliptical trainer. Don't be afraid to take multiple days off in a row until the pain decreases.

See a sports doc. If the pain persists or is severe, see a physician to create an appropriate treatment plan.

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