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Warmer temperatures and longer days mean more time outside and for many that equals a return to exercise and a renewed desire to get in shape. Running is often a go-to, as all it takes is a good pair of shoes and a desire to move, but ramping up a running program too fast can be a recipe for injury, warns Sports Medicine Physician Carrie Jaworski, MD, NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute.
Dr. Jaworski, an avid runner who also serves as one of the lead physicians for the Chicago Marathon and the Director of NorthShore’s Sports Medicine Fellowship program, urges new runners and even experienced runners who are taking on bigger goals like training for a first race or marathon to take it slow and have a plan to gradually add more miles, speed, and cross-training.
Here she discusses prevention and treatment for some of the most common running injuries and encourages all runners to use common sense and listen to their bodies.
Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonitis (which often go hand in hand)
Dr. Jaworski: People get confused about footwear and all the shoe options out there. Don’t wear a shoe based on a trend, wear a shoe that feels good on your feet. Look at the shoes you are wearing when you are not running too—high heels, worn-out shoes with no support are all hard on the feet.
Keeping calves and Achilles' tendons stretched out is one way to help prevent both plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis. When icing, stretching, and rest are not enough and the heel pain persists see a specialist who can offer other methods of treatment.
Dr. Jaworski: This is a classic runner’s issue and is often related to weakness in the hip muscles. So many people sit for a majority of their day and this, unfortunately, can lead to weak hips. Adding single leg exercises and those with side-to-side movements can help. Wearing a knee stabilizing brace or similar taping during running, as well as icing after exercise can help. If the knee swells after running, that can suggest cartilage or other damage and the need to see a physician. Voltaren, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory gel can also help with the pain.
Iliotibial Band (IT) Syndrome
Dr. Jaworski: Pain on the outside of the knee is often seen in conjunction with runner’s knee and is typically related to an increase in mileage, or change in terrain, like running hilly or mountainous terrain. The IT band is not easily stretched, but foam rolling can help. If you think of the IT band running down the outside of the leg like a pant seam, roll both in front and back of the seam to loosen up the muscles attached to the IT band.
Dr. Jaworski: Shin splints are common in young or inexperienced runners, and are often connected to muscle imbalance and tight calves. If a runner experiences similar pain in the front of both legs, ice massage over the area and an anti-inflammatory usually help. But if the pain is localized to one spot, or the pain is persistent even when not running it could be a sign of a stress fracture and should be checked out by a physician. Stress fractures can be related to poor bone health, osteoporosis, eating disorders, or energy deficits following a significant weight loss.
Dr. Jaworski: We think of hip pain as a stress fracture until proven otherwise. It’s important for runners experiencing hip pain to see a physician first, and not start with home remedies. The worst thing you can do with any stress fracture is to keep running.