Quad Cities, IL/IA

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A Spring in Your Step! How to Prevent Three Common Walking and Running Injuries


Submitted by Let’s Move Quad Cities

Sunny and warmer Quad City days have brought out avid walkers and runners after our long winter, but don’t let your enthusiasm result in injury.

“It’s inevitable that I start seeing patients with injuries, just as soon as the days warm up,” says Dr. Jessica Ellis, sports medicine physician, ORA Orthopedics. “We all want to get out there and start moving, but going too hard, too fast can push beyond soreness and right into an overuse injury,” she says.

Three Common Walking and Running Injuries
Dr. Ellis says walkers, and especially runners, can suffer from the following injuries — especially true if you are “hitting” hard pavement and trying to go large distances before you’re ready:

1. Foot Injuries
There are several different injuries that can affect the foot including plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendon problems.  Plantar fasciitis involves the thick band of tissue that supports your arch. With repeated loading of this tissue, it can become inflamed or even break down.  Walkers and runners may feel a stab of pain under the heel, especially in the morning.   To combat this problem, it is advisable to ease into longer distances and strengthen your foot.  Once someone has pain in the plantar fascia, Dr. Ellis advises “stretching of the plantar fascia and deep massage of the arch, using a golfball to increase the blood flow to aid in healing.”  She also says using orthotic inserts in your shoes once you have pain in your arch can help in some cases.

Achilles tendon problems can also plague outdoor cardio enthusiasts. The Achilles tendon is the thick tendon right above your heel and it’s the most common cause of pain in the back of the heel.  “The tendon is strong, but there’s not a lot of blood flow,” says Dr. Ellis. “It can get swollen and acutely inflamed or with some runners it can get microscopic tears and thicken over time.  Once pain has developed it is important to stretch it and decrease impact on the tendon until pain decreases.  The most important step is to re-strengthen the calf muscles before returning to your previous level of running.”

2. Shin Splints
Shin pain is another common injury affecting runners and walkers.  Usually the pain occurs along the inner edge of the shinbone, or tibia. “This pain also tends to intensify when we put extra demands on our legs,” says Dr. Ellis. “The muscles, tendons, and then the bone become inflamed and without rest or treatment, the condition can worsen.”  Dr. Ellis advises the best course of treatment is to ice the shins to control the immediate pain, and then rest or cross train with lower-impact exercises.  Be sure to see a doctor if your pain is located in the front of the tibia; the pain occurs at rest or night; or worsens after one to two weeks of modified activity.  “Untreated shin splints can result in stress fractures, so it’s really important to listen to your body regarding these symptoms,” she adds.

3. “Runners Knee”
“Runner’s knee is not a specific injury,” explains Dr. Ellis, “but instead covers a whole host of different knee pain with different causes.”  Typically, runners experience pain under the kneecap, also known as patellar femoral syndrome.  Since the kneecap sits like a train on a track and slides along a groove in the femur, pain occurs when there is a tracking problem, triggering inflammation and injury to the knee cartilage. “The best prevention against knee pain is strengthening the muscles that control the position of the femur which are the glutes and the muscles around the hip,” advises Dr. Ellis.

She says if you are feeling pain on the outside of your knee, it may actually be related to the IT band — a tendon that runs along the outside of your thigh and attaches just below the knee.  Again, strengthening the hip and practicing good running and walking techniques can help. You can also get a long foam roller and lie on your side, so the thigh touches the tube, stimulating blood flow, reducing inflammation, and stretching the tendon.

When to See a Doctor?

Dr. Ellis says that while soreness is inevitable, it’s time to call your physician when:

  • Pain is present even during non-athletic activity.
  • Pain worsens at night.
  • Pain involves high-risk areas such as your groin, the front of the lower leg or the foot.
  • Pain does not resolve with one to two weeks of modified activity.

Read more about how the Quad Cities are staying healthy and active by visiting Let’s Move Quad Cities at www.letsmoveqc.com.