Since Dustin Hoffman’s famed performance in Marathon Man , many have mistakenly assumed that the best way to perform in a long distance running situation is to push through the pain. There are two kinds of pain in running: physical and mental. Pain is your body’s way of communicating that there is something wrong with the action you are committing. If there is any any good news, it’s that common running injuries can be prevented and treated.
Pain can come in small initial warnings or it can result in large debilitating screams. Many runners ignore the initial warnings because of their desire to push through the pain, but this kind of fortitude typically results in chronic pain or debilitating injury. It is important for you to recognize the messages of pain your body is giving you by properly addressing them. If you develop serious pain, you should default to the recommendations of a licensed doctor. Generally, there are four types of pain you will most frequently encounter.
4 Types of Common Running Injuries
Skin Pain Needs to be Addressed ASAP
Skin pain is most commonly something that should be corrected or addressed on the spot. Your body will give you a warning that something is irritating your skin shortly before a skin injury develops. In the early stages of running, this pain is usually in the feet. Advanced runners must deal with nipple chaffing and various other skin irritations that result after extended hours of running. The good news is you will not have to worry about those in the beginning.
Anywhere friction is applied to the skin can result in the removal of skin layers or in a blister. If you are running and feel something rubbing in your shoe stop and fix it immediately. The time lost or pace disruption that occurs due to a stop for adjustment is much less than the time lost due to an irritated skin injury. Little things like a misaligned sock or a loosely tied shoe lace can result in a raw spot or blister. If you stop and make the correction, the pain should subside. However, there are times that it will not. If this occurs, then you need to address the issue as soon as you are home.
Oh That’s Hot is Not Always a Good Thing
“Hot Spot” is a term used to identify places that have been irritated and will result in a blister if not properly treated. Do not pop blisters. Avoid blisters by applying tape to the affected area as soon as possible. There are plenty of expensive alternatives like mole-skin or medical tape, but duct tape works well. When taping a “Hot Spot,” you should attach the tape in such a way that it will remain unmoved for two days. This will minimize the skins expansion into a blister and can more quickly facilitate the development of a callous. Be cautious when you do remove the tape as the skin will be soft underneath. Fast removal can result in a skin tear.
Blisters Are the Most Annoying Common Running Injury
Blisters are the most common running injuries, but they are not the only ones to expect. Workouts will always create muscle pain because strengthening causes slight tears in muscle fibers in order for them to expand. Lactic acid also becomes trapped in muscles and results in sensitivity. There is a lot more science to explaining muscle pain.
These basic ideas are really all that a runner needs to be aware of in the beginning. When dealing with muscle pain, there are two primary practices to observe. First is the act of stretching. Some suggest stretching before and after a run, but that is a matter of opinion and preference. Stretching afterwards is essential, but stretching before a run is less imperative because a cold muscle does not stretch.
Always begin runs with a warm up period and learn to listen to your body and feel the tension levels in your muscles. It may all feel the same in the beginning, but after a few weeks you will begin to recognize what your muscles feel like when they are stiff and when they are warmed up and ready for action.
By beginning slow, the muscles are allowed to gradually be stretched and challenged. It is at that point that it is safe to progressively increase your speed. This slow start is also the time used to stabilize your breathing and fine tune your form. It is important to gradually build up your muscle mobility by including a warm-up period.
You’re Trying to Build Muscles, But…
While running, muscle pain may also occur. The feeling of muscle fatigue is very different from muscle or tendon injury. Muscle fatigue will feel like heaviness in the muscle. It can result in a shaky feeling or a difficulty to continue an action, but these feelings are good pain. They signal that you are improving your strength by extending passed your previous limitations.
When the pain becomes sharp and acute, it is immediately important to identify exactly where the pain is. If the pain is at a muscle connection point, called a tendon, you need to stop then and there. Tendons and ligaments are not like muscles. Their tears are not a natural part of strength building and can actually inhibit future use or cause permanent injury.
If you find that a muscle is seizing then you should stop and stretch that affected muscle. However, if the pain is in a tendon, stop the run. Stretching a tendon will only exacerbate the condition and may result in a greater injury. Tendons will fluctuate between expandable and stiff periods throughout your human development, but they cannot be forced. Building muscle too quickly can put pressure on an unprepared tendon that will then result in chronic pain.
You may also notice muscle fatigue in places like your neck or shoulders while you run. This is due to improper form. If you are running in a state of perpetual tension, muscle fatigue will occur in those areas too. Treat them just as you do your legs: stop and stretch before continuing.
Joint Pain Can Sometimes Lead to ‘Other’ Issues
Joint pain is the most serious pain resulting and can result from poor form. Joint pain should never be ignored. Note that muscle development can occur at a faster rate than tendon flexibility, but it can also develop while damaging joints. The most common runner injuries seem to reside in the knees and the ankles. Here is where theory and application seem to come into tremendous conflict.
In theory, your body is a specifically designed biological machine that is capable of accomplishing many movements. Through muscle memory and strength training, you can advance the speed and efficiency of those movements. However, your muscles will only respond to the specific targeting offered them and only in their natural timetable. While running will result in muscle building it can also result in joint damage if improper form is used. Take the knees for example.
You Only Have One Pair of Knees
It is a fallacy to believe that your knees are a natural sacrifice to running. The truth is your body was designed to operate efficiently, but it is you who may be failing to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The knee is equipped for the task of alternating between forward and backward motion. Additionally, it has some basic cushioning that protects it through these motions like a bearing. The cartilage in your knee is intended to cushion and guide against the stresses of properly ranged forward and backward motion only. It’s not designed to protect you for the impact generated two thirds of your body weight colliding with the ground. When inappropriate stress is placed on the knee the results are painful and mostly irreversible.
You get one pair of knees at birth, and how you treat them will determine your quality of later life mobility. Proper knee protection means freeing them of the burden of absorbing sideways stress or the crushing downward force of your body weight. It is not their job to be the shock absorber; they are simply one part of the total shock absorbed by your body.
The Body Has Built In Design Features to Help Common Running Injuries
The entire leg is designed to operate in an efficient manner that protects you from injury. The way this is done is through a combination of absorption and disbursement of force followed by a return of energy. First, think of how you jump? You would never dream of jumping off a raised platform with your knees locked. Yet many runners see fit to do this every time they run. Remember that the definition of running is when both feet leave the ground for a fraction of a second. Consider running as a series of small jumps.
It becomes more obvious that you want your knees to be bent on impact with the ground. Because when you think about it that makes more sense when jumping, right? If you extend your leg straight out as you step forward, then you are basically landing with a locked knee. The dangers of a heel-toe running style are enormous. Your knee is locked and the leg is angular at impact thus resulting in a diagonal force application to the cartilage of the knee. The results are a quick deterioration of the cartilage in the knee because the leg bones are chiseling away at it with every step.
All in All the Body Is An Amazing Specimen
Like a coil, the entire leg is meant to compress in absorption and distribution of the force of impact, then spring back in a forceful return. In order to make sure your knee is bent when you come into contact with the ground, you need to shorten your stride. By landing each time, as you would when jumping, your entire leg will be free to absorb the shock of impact. Thicker soled shoes with airbags or springs in them will never be strong enough to support the full impact of your body’s downward thrusting weight just as your knees never will be able to either.
Only a bent leg that distributes the force through the elastic web of muscle sinew in the entire leg is truly strong enough to continually handle the shock of a runner’s series of small jumps. If you want a longer stride, then you should be extending backward not forward to prevent joint pain. As long as you keep your knees slightly bent and your body set to the front or your stride arc instead of the middle, you will enjoy a lifetime of injury-free knees.
You Need to Watch The Ankles
Ankle injuries are a common joint pain as well and are also caused by incorrect form. However, this form correction has more to do with your choice of shoes than with your conscious form decisions. Examine the compromises your shoes and muscles have made, and ask yourself if your ankle are being prevented from operating as they are intended to. The ankles are a very prominent part of many shoe design compromises, and can easily be injured if not addressed.
The human foot and ankle are perfectly designed for the activity of running. From birth, most people possessed all the basic structures necessary to run optimally and without injury. The problem began in the 1970s when runners collectively started to believe that they should improve on perfection by inventing the running shoe and the heel-toe running style. The result has been an ever expanding chase to solve problems resulting from previous fixes. That is a crazy cycle, but it is one many runners are involved in today.
The construction and orientation of the foot muscles and ankles are designed to do two things: stabilize and launch a return of energy. For stabilizing, the foot has a pattern of muscles that form a 360 degree network of compensation and movement. The needed data to operate these muscles comes from the highly sensitive soles of the foot. When the sensitivity is impaired, the response time is slowed and resulting movements can occur too quickly for the foot to counter. Rolling your ankle is an example of a time that the message to compensate was received too late by the foot and resulted in an extreme amount of pressure being put on one location.
Your Feet Are Indeed The Foundation
By giving the feet greater access to immediate terrain feedback, you are actually equipping them to respond faster to stabilization needs. The muscles that are meant to respond become more practiced and more capable to assist in foot stabilization when less shoe construction impedes the process. This is where the debate for barefoot running comes in.
The naked foot is much more adept at receiving information and making stabilization adjustments with the toes and ankles when it is not blinded by a rigid rubber sole. The problem is, if you have worn shoes for most of your lifetime then many of the stabilization muscles and reflexes have already atrophied.
You can get it back, but it is a slow process and cannot be accomplished simply because you kick off your shoes and decide it is time to run more primitively. Transitioning to a more natural foot stabilization system requires a slow build and retraining of the muscles. The difficulty is that your legs will want to go further than you feet are immediately capable of. It can be done, but you must slowly build to avoid foot muscle and tendon injuries.
The Foot Actually Has 2 Main Purposes
The secondary purpose of the human foot is the force-return that is meant to convert your downward motion into upward motion. The ankle is not meant to be a part of this, but for many runners it is. The ankle is an excellent stabilizer but think of it more as a finesse player. Through fast minor adjustment, the ankle practices Aikido styled force transference. But when faced with direct force from the body, the ankle puts in a valiant attempt that will likely fail.
The return of force from the foot is actually accomplished by the arch. The human arch is a natural spring mechanism that absorbs force by flattening slightly before resuming its original shape. It is actually meant to flatten slightly at each impact, like a leaf spring, and then return the downward momentum in the opposite direction. Supporting the arch of the foot from below robs it of its ability to flatten and return force, so that job defaults to the next likely candidate: the ankle. It is not what the ankle was designed to do, so the ankle breaks down very quickly and you have the resulting weak ankle injury caused by too much support in a shoe.
Each time a part of the leg is supported unnaturally, that responsibility will be taken up by another part of the leg. Unfortunately that part is less prepared to handle the task. This is where you need to decide how much of the cure from technology is causing your body’s natural systems to wither while relocating stresses to other unprepared areas of the body. Through patience and slow building, you can return your body to its natural configuration.
Let the Body Do What It Is Designed to Do
Some technological assistance can be a benefit, but a balance in the benefit-harm ratio will be paid if you try to override the body’s natural order. Allowing each of your body’s parts to perform their natural assignments will prevent common running injuries. Choosing to strengthen and define the small muscles that control stabilization will allow your body to operate efficiently and safely for a greater length of time.
The most critical and dangerous pain is anything located in the torso. Your torso is a constant hot bed of activity and motion. Pains in this area can symbolize a wide range of causes and severity. The top priority is to always avoid chest pain while running. If you experience chest pain, something is very wrong. Stop running and rest. If it does not subside or worsens in a few minutes, go to the hospital.
Some runners mistakenly believe that chest pains are due to improper breathing, but that is false. Your lungs always get enough air for themselves, but shortened breathing leads to deficiencies for the rest of the body. Lack of oxygen will result in muscle pain, not actually in chest pain. Pains in the chest are heart related and that is something that is very dangerous and is never an acceptable part of any workout.
‘Some’ Back Pain May Be Fixable
Lower abdominal pain is a common occurrence that can be the result of tired abdominal muscles. But is more likely the result of dehydration or hunger. Many runners have felt a sharp pain in their side while running, which is typically referred to as a “Side Stitch.” It can be a sudden and severe pain that causes a runner to have to slow or stop running. Scientists do not know for certain what causes it, but most certainly support the theory that it is related to hydration. A “Side Stitch” can be a sure sign that you are not taking in enough water. To avoid a “Side Stitch,” you need to avoid excessive amounts of beverages with carbohydrates before or during a run.
The best hydration rule is: drink eight to 10 ounces of water for every 15 minutes lapsed while exercising. This will compensate for sweat loss and absorption. Heavier sweaters need to take in a little more. If you are running for more than 90 minutes, then you also need to drink eight to 10 ounces of electrolyte sport drink, but make sure it has less than eight percent carbohydrate content. It is the processing of excessive carbohydrates by the liver during physical activity that most likely causes the “Side Stitch.”
The bottom line is don’t let these small roadblocks get in the way of you going out for a Run. It’s still one of the best ways to exercise!