Many runners wish they lived with an orthopedic surgeon. No need to make appointments or get a referral, the constant around-the-clock care and in-home consultations. All in all, being married to one appears to be a pretty sweet deal.
Well, you know what they say about appearances.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about having my very own MD husband with whom to share my woes. After all, who wouldn’t want immediate access to assistance and answers, especially when you are a neurotic “Honey!! What is this pain??” kind of runner like me?
The issue is that my orthopod husband has caught onto my crazy impulses and frantic cries for help and he’s not biting any more. This means that 99% of the good doctor’s resounding replies to me can be summed up in three words: Rest, ice and Ibuprofen. Wa, right?
But, knowing an orthopedist as well as I do, has provided me with some insight I’d like to share. Up first: know your injury types.
If you were to visit an orthopedist about a running injury is RICE all you can expect to get out of the deal? Well, that depends on many things, including the type of injury you have.
The defining factors and ultimate prescription your doctor will give you depends on the presentation of your pain. Knowing how to figure out what type of pain you feel and thus what type of injury you possibly have, is necessary. “My knee hurts” results more in my doctor husband suggesting RICE, but if I can tell him a little more about what my body’s pain is trying to tell me, I am more likely to get a beyond-RICE reply from him.
So, how does one discern what the body is saying? According to James Dunne of Kinetic Revolution, there are three categories of runner’s pain or injuries to be aware of: muscle pain, joint pain and bone injuries.
Often when experiencing a muscle injury, you will typically experience a tightness and a sharp pain that subsides, often completely, when the muscle is unloaded. Translation: it stops hurting, or hurts much less when you stop running. A muscle injury can come on suddenly, when active, and it can depart just as quickly, when inactive.
At less fortunate times, however, the pain may continue even when you stop running. The cause of this type of injury is most often overuse. Yes. This is the proverbial “overuse injury” runners dread. According to my esteemed husband, Alec Fedorov, M.D., the majority of running injuries fall into this category. The prescription for such an injury is …
Wait for it …
“Rest, ice and Ibuprofen!”
But a doctor might also prescribe some PT, if she wants to get fancy about it.
Besides overuse, a runner may actually tear a muscle. This can be as a muscle strain, a small tear in the muscle fiber, or an outright, full-on tear of the muscle itself. In either case, the indicated treatment is a reduction in running mileage or intensity or complete rest from running. Most doctors will prescribe physical therapy for strains and tears.
Common muscle pain injuries in runners include any “itis”, which indicates an inflammation of the muscle or tendon, such as IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinitis, and shin splints.
According to James Dunne, the defining characteristics of a joint injury, naturally, is pain in or around any joint. For runners, that is often the knee, ankle or hip. Additionally, a runner may experience stiffness and swelling around the joint. The area of pain may also be warm to the touch.
Joint injuries can be the result of an acute trauma to the joint as in tears in the Meniscus and ACL. They may also be the result of arthritis in the joint. Some joint injuries can also stem from overuse too. Common joint injuries in runners besides the torn meniscus or ACL in the knee, include patellofemoral pain syndrome (aka runner’s knee), hip bursitis, or torn labrum.
If a runner experiences a bone injury, it is, most commonly, a stress fracture rather than an outright broken bone. Stress fractures often present as an ache or a burning sensation along a bone. The site of injury is painful to the touch, usually worsens when you run, and can progress to pain when you walk or even when not bearing any weight. Sometimes, if there are muscles along the fractured bone, these attached muscles can get very tight, too. John Davis recommends a bone scan or an MRI to confirm the diagnosis of a stress fracture.
He notes that common running stress fractures affect the tibia or shin, the metatarsals or bones in your feet, the femur or thigh bone, and the navicular, which is in the top of your foot near your ankle. These injuries usually necessitate taking at least six weeks completely off from running and sometimes even require you to wear a boot or use crutches.
It’s important to note that some less common, and more serious, stress fractures can also occur in runners. Perhaps the most severe of these being the femoral neck fracture, according to my husband. If a runner experiences pain in the groin at any time during a run, and this pain does not go away, or it progressively gets worse, then stop running immediately! This type of stress fracture could be very serious and must be examined immediately.
So what does all of this mean to us salty athletes? Well, as runners, we log mile after mile mostly in one plane of motion, and, because of this, we can get hurt. It comes with the territory. That said, we can do some important things to avoid or, at least reduce, our chances of getting injured. In the next next installment of this ongoing post, I’ll speak to these exercises and activities.
In the meantime, remember to listen to your body, take time off, cross train as needed and with any luck, the most you’ll need is rest, ice and Ibuprofen!
Have you experienced any of these three main categories of running injuries?