If you’re a runner or other competitive athlete, chances are it’s only a matter of time before you get hurt. Not due to clumsiness (though what runner hasn’t tripped over a curb?), but because training is hard on the body.
Working out too hard or increasing the intensity of your workouts too quickly coupled with not enough rest time is a recipe for an overuse injury.
Overuse injuries are the most common types of athletic injuries. They happen when a repetitive motion — like running — harms the involved bones, tendons or joints over time. Overuse injuries usually happen from increasing the intensity or duration of your workouts too quickly, or not letting your body recover enough between sweat sessions. They’re often the type of injury that appears slowly and symptoms may come and go. Your knee may ache for awhile before it gets really bothersome, for example. And you may not be able to remember when the injury started. This makes overuse injuries challenging for doctors to diagnose. Shin splints, tendonitis, or stress fractures are examples of overuse injuries.
Acute injuries are different because they are the result of a known single trauma. If you tripped while you were running and twisted your ankle, that would be an acute injury because it occurred as the result of a single trauma. Bone breaks, dislocations, and sprains are most often acute injuries.
Stay in the game
These tips can help you avoid overuse injuries:
- Slowly increase your training. There’s a good reason why most marathon training plans have you build your mileage slowly. Doing too much, too soon ups your risk of overuse injury. Don’t increase the distance of your long run or your total weekly mileage by more than 10 percent each week.
- Cross-train. Always doing the same repetitive motion can wear on your body. Cross-training gives you great cardiovascular benefits without the risk of overuse injuries. What’s more, cross-training can also strengthen different muscles and get you in better shape. Supplement your weekly runs with swimming, biking, or workouts on the elliptical trainer.
- Strength train. Overuse injuries can be caused by muscle imbalances. Lifting weights can help keep your body strong and able to ward off injuries.
- Try yoga. Poor flexibility can cause overuse injuries. Adding yoga to your regular routine can help keep muscles loose and strengthen them.
- Rest. Taking days off from exercise is just as important as days spent training. Your muscles heal when they’re at rest. Aim to take at least one rest day per week.
- Wear proper shoes. Not wearing sport-specific shoes can set you up for injury. Go to a running specialty store to be fitted for running shoes. The store employees can analyze your foot and gait and find the shoe that’s best for you.
- Use correct form. Many injuries can be avoided by using proper technique. Ask a coach or trainer to watch you run and critique your form.
If you’re already injured
Rest at the first sign of injury. This can help keep a minor injury from turning into a major problem. Ask yourself this: is it more important to run this week or run the rest of your life? Training through an injury can end up causing more damage in the long run. It’s better to miss a week or so of workouts than be sidelined from your sport for months or even years.
If rest doesn’t ease your symptoms, see your doctor. Only your doctor — not Google or your friends — can diagnose your injury. Once you have your diagnosis, follow your treatment plan as directed by your doctor and sign-up to volunteer at races this season. Sure, it’s not as fun as participating, but your injured body will thank you.