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Runner Therapy: Know when to hold em’, Know when to fold em’

Posted May 11 2010 7:33am

There are several times when its questionable whether today’s run is a good idea, but here are four instances where you are better off waiting.

1. Discomfort alters your regular gait pattern- If you find that your body is naturally avoiding pressure on an area by putting it on another, this is a good sign you shouldn’t be running. The body is made to be symmetric. Any alterations on one side will have devastating consequences to another joint, muscle or not to mention your lower back. Once your overall posture has been modified, abnormal stress occurs at all other joints to compensate.

In the middle of training for the NY Marathon one year, I was convinced I had a stress fracture in my shin. When a sports medicine doc told me otherwise, I ran an 18 mile race to stay trained. Somewhere within the last 5 miles my calf decided it did not want to contract, thus there was no push-off from my foot available to me. So what did I do? Like an idiot I started lifting more at my hip to help the leg clear the ground and finish the race. After 2 miles as my pace slowed from an 8:30 minute- mile to a 10 minute-mile, I realized I was being foolish, thus voluntarily stopping my first and only road race. The doctor turned out to be incorrect, I did in fact have a stress fracture, and now thanks to my own stupidity had some great hip pain to go along with it!

2. Discomfort at rest or walking- Its one thing if a body part hurts when we contract the muscles and put pounding pressure into the joints as we run, but it is quite another when we are aware of an injury with simply walking down the street or even at rest. If we have discomfort or even awareness of an injury when we are not running, rest-assured that it is no small problem we are having, and its likely to do more damage when we run. This is also a good time to seek professional help…perhaps of the mental kind as well!

3. You have a virus, cold, flu, increase in allergy reaction or just recovering from one/feel one coming on- The general malaise linked to illness, even if slight, is enough to leave the joints and muscles at risk. When we are sick, recovering, or feel a cold coming on our defenses are down. Better yet, so are the electrolytes used to contract working skeletal muscles. Your body is working to fight off whatever infectious agent is harming you, sending chemical mediators to work. Unfortunately this means the working muscles are not top priority.

Runners’ knee, or better know as chondromalacia or simply patellofemoral syndrome ranks for me as the most prevalent condition I treat, by far! If I had a dollar for every athlete that described nothing different about the run that started the pain besides a cold or flu in that timeframe, I would be a rich woman!

4. Your doc or health care provider has told you not to- Well, I suppose this goes without saying. It may be frustrating or depressing to stop running for awhile, but believe us, usually stopping when you need to will actually get you back to running pain-free quicker than running through the pain.

Follow these guidelines for easy decisions on knowing when to walk away and when to run.

Run smart. Use your brain, too.

(Marisa, MS PT SCS ATC, is a physical therapist in private practice in midtown NYC.  She one of a dozen or so therapists  in the state of NY to be board certified in sports.)

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