This post, as with all in this series, are geared towards brand new runners or want to be brand new runners. Searching through a running website, blog or health site can be very overwhelming with a lot of lingo and running “speak” that isn’t terribly helpful for the noobie runner when you just want to know why youkeep getting a stitch in your side, your instep hurts or your thighs are so stiff that you can’t sit down without falling down.
Injuries in new runners are common for two reasons: 1. When you are tragically out of shape, your body is not used to or adapted to exercise and 2. If you are carrying around more weight that you want, you may be very disconnected from your body. When this happens we listen less and less to what our body is trying to tell us about what hurts and what it needs, until this communication pretty much stops. Preventing injury and your fitness journey is really about listening again or maybe for the first time to what your body is trying to tell you and honoring that above all else. Your body is your friend, and your ally on this journey and we should treat it that way.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS):
What it is: This is something that pretty much everyone embarking on a running program will encounter. When you wake up the day following your first workout, your feet hit the floor and you realize that your effort to runyesterday heavily impacted your ability to walk today. You have met DOMS and it hurts. People often remark that this is the sign of a good workout and that is both true and false. DOMS indicates muscular trauma and repair getting underway. That may sound bad but the way you improve at any aspect of fitness is through your muscles being stressed and repairing themselves stronger than they were before. Also, DOMS is caused more often by the lengthening contractions of your muscles, and running involves a lot of these. It’s not ok, however, to push yourself so hard that you impair your regular life function, that’s a recipe for injury. Balance, as with all things, is important in running too.
Prevention: Warm up and cool down. Although this will not prevent DOMS in all cases, it is an important habit to reduce injury and enjoy your running life. DOMS is hard to prevent if you’re beginning a new exercise program after years or a lifetime of being sedentary.The best prevention strategy is to approach a new fitness plan gradually, increasing intensity and duration of your runs as prescribed in your running plan. This may sound easy but the tendency is to want to push just a little bit farther or faster or both. Although it’s fantastic to be out there getting physical after many years, now is not the time to push yourself beyond your capabilities, there is always time for that later.
Remedies: DOMS can last from 24 to 72 hours after an unaccustomed workout. Drink plenty of water, to ensure your body has enough fluid to properly maintain body functions that are now hard at work making you stronger. The most successful treatment for DOMS are activities that increase blood flow to the muscles that are sore. Some examples would be light walking, hot showers or baths, and a massage (since we always need an excuse to have more of these.) DOMS is really communicating to you that your body was stressed and needs time to repair. Although it’s OK to exercise with mild DOMS, you are at a higher risk of injury if you choose to do so and should always listen to your body.
What it is: Slabbing pain in your side. The difficult part of side stitches is that there is no general consensus as to why causes them. The theories vary from inhaling when you stride with your right foot, causing strain on the ligaments that are connected to your liver, to spine imbalances. But whatever causes it, they are insanely painful at times and if you string a number of runs together all with these stitches it can drain the fun right out of running. This also happens more often to people who are in less than ideal shape and then some people never get them. They are somewhat of a mystery.
Prevention: Strengthening core muscles can help reduce the number of stitches you get while running. This helps stabilize your muscles, organs and the ligaments that hold everything is place. Warming up properly is thought to help as well as not running faster than you’re accustomed to. Working up to faster speeds can give your body a chance to adapt. Finally, eating and drinking right before exercise can cause large amounts of blood to center around digestive organs and make cramping more likely. Everyone handles food differently before exercising and experimentation is the only way to find how your body works best.
Remedies: If you’re out on a run the easiest way to rid yourself of these terrible cramps is to belly breathe. When you inhale, push your abdominal wall out, if you look pregnant while doing this you’re doing it right! It really helps but it takes some time for them to go away. You can also stop running and stretch out your sides, sometimes applying pressure to the side with the stitch can loosen it up or lay on your back and pull your knee up to your chest on the side where the pain is. Everyone’s body is different, so once again, try and see what works for you. Other than being intensely uncomfortable, it’s not harming you and if nothing else works you can run through them and they will often dissipate on their own.
What it is: Shin splints are a generalized term for overuse injuries that are located in the front of the lower leg. You can get them from improper running form. Hitting the ground with your heel usually results in pain on the outside of your lower leg while hitting the ground with your toe, results in pain on the inside of the lower leg. Essentially, there are large muscles in your leg that are slowing down your foot while you’re running and improper form can really inflame those muscles and lead to pain. Running on hard surfaces, improper shoes and increasing training amount or intensity too quickly are also culprits.
Prevention: Ideally, the first thing is proper footwear to help your foot hit the ground with the full length of the foot with the majority of the force going through your arch. That’s your arch’s job, to absorb stress. No matter what you do to treat shin splints if you don’t solve the main reason it’s occurring, they will keep coming back. Paying attention to how you run early on is difficult since you don’t really have anything to compare it to but developing good form habits early help you from having to break bad habits later. A running clinic at this stage can be very helpful and in Canada, the Running Room offers them in most major centers where the experienced staff can watch you run and see what you’re missing. Also, as with a lot of overuse injuries, increasing duration of runs too fast can be a problem. However, when you’re new to running the normal increase of running 10% more than you did last week can still be too much. This is why above all else, listen to your body and taking a day off when you need it is respectful, not lazy. If you abuse your body, it will not perform, break down and then one day won’t be all you’re missing.
Remedies: Rest is a big one here, overuse injuries require rest to repair themselves and nothing can hurry this. You can however, do non weight baring exercises while you’re healing, like strength training your upper body, cycling or swimming. Ice the shins in the acute, early stages of inflammation. If this problem is severe and you can’t figure it out on your own by all means go see a physiotherapist or doctor to help you solve it. Years of happy running await you and being pain free definitely makes that easier. This last item can be both a remedy and a prevention technique. If you are acutely prone to shin splints you should definitely be doing this move regularly and I would argue that regardless of your running skill or history making friends with a foam roller is a very wise investment. What this movement does is keep your shin muslces soft and free of knots as well as works the connective tissue that holds it all together. If you’re very tight, this can hurt far more than you’d think but the more you do it the better it feels.
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What it is: Pain in the bottom of your foot that can radiate the full length but be centered right in front of the heel. In very severe cases it can hurt to bare weight on it at all and can range from this, to discomfort only while running. Usually the connective tissue that separates the muscle and tendons in your foot becomes inflamed if you suddenly start exercising on hard surfaces, have flat feet, high arches or tight tendons in the back of your heel. All this can throw off your proper bio-mechanics while you run and cause pain and inflammation. If you’re a runner with extra weight, this issue is even more common.
Prevention: Your first line of defense is your shoes. Good padding is essential and replacing them often will ensure this. The recommended replacement mileage is between 350-500 miles depending on your weight (heavier is sooner.) Stretching the bottom of your feet and the back of your heel (Achilles Tendon) are the best ways to not encounter this problem. Rolling your arch over top of a tennis ball 50 times while applying as much pressure as possible is great for keeping the connective tissue soft and stretched. See the video below for a visual of this stretch. Also, to stretch your Achilles Tendon, lay on your back with one leg raised straight in the air, loop a towel over your toe and gently pull toward your body, and repeat for both legs. It is always best to stretch after warming up to ensure your muscles are ready for the stretches to follow. Women who wear high heels need to ensure they don’t change out of heels and then go for a run. Wearing heels shortens the heel tendons, then the added stress of running pulls on that shortened tendon, leading to pain and inflammation of the fascia. If you can run before putting heels on for the day or switching to lower heeled shoes, you will be all the better for it.
Remedies: Plantar fasciitis can take 6 weeks to 3 months to heal with rest, stretching, anti-inflammatory medications and icing following runs. It requires intense patience to rehab from this and if you’re just beginning a running program it can derail your starting effort. Please take the time to stretch, proceed slowly and trust what your body is telling you to avoid this and other painful conditions.
Things Not Otherwise Specified:
Now there are some things as a new runner, and as an overweight runner, that you may encounter that are different from other people. We chafe more, have (possibly a lot) of thigh rubbing, are often larger chested (men and ladies) and in general skin, fat and everything jiggles around. Jiggling can hurt quite a bit. You may even get random bruises from this shaking. I found that various compression shorts, tights and shirts are very helpful with a number of these areas. It’s not attractive or flattering to look like a stuffed sausage but if you can throw on a pair of compression shorts and then pop a regular pair over top, you’re all set. These also help your muscles stay warm, reduce injury and have fantastic benefits for experienced athletes and beginners. I was just happy not to have my butt and stomach jiggle down the road.
Chafing is incredibly unpleasant and a tad bit embarrassing. No one wants to talk about thigh chafe or rashes under rolls but it happens, we’ve been there and it will go away eventually. Any running store will have a lot of anti-chafing products to choose from and runners of all shapes and sizes need them so don’t be embarrassed. People even use it so their nipples don’t bleed during really long runs, the running stores are used to embarrassing problems and won’t even bat an eye.