Lately, I’ve been receiving lots of emails and comments about running-related injuries. ‘Tis the (race) season for injuries, right? Or maybe it’s because I’m the poster child for having and recovering from just about every running-related injury out there? I have no idea, but I am happy to help in anyway that I can. I know how much running means to someone who can’t run due to an injury. I lived that nightmare for nearly a year and it sucked.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional of any kind. This post is solely based on my personal experience and opinions. If you have specific injuries questions, please consult your doctor.
My Injury History
Growing up, I played soccer, tennis, basketball, and track, but I never got injured. Basically, my body was invincible. I stopped playing team sports when I entered college, so I started running to relieve stress from my rigorous academic schedule. Running became a form of exercise that I could count on, and for the next decade, I ran two to four times every week. Most of my runs were three to four miles and I never ran more than five or six miles at a time.
In the Spring of 2009, I decided to train for my first half marathon. I found a training program online, started following it, and ran my little heart out. I did a few short runs during the week and a long run on the weekend. I was running between 20–25 miles per week, which was much more than my usual weekly mileage, so it was just a matter of time before I felt pain in my left hip, but I kept running and did not take care of it. It eventually got so bad, I could barely walk on my commute to work without pain. It was horrible.
I was more than halfway through my training program and the half-marathon was just a few weeks away, so I made an appointment to see my doctor. I was worried that she’d tell me not to run it, but, as a marathoner herself, she said go ahead and do it. She knew physical therapy was in my future, so why not run the race, especially since I had trained for it? So, I ran 13.1 miles, and it hurt a lot, but I finished the race. I don’t regret my decision one bit. I was so proud of myself!
After the race, the pain in my hip couldn’t be ignored, and I knew it was finally time to take a step back and stop running. I went to physical therapy twice a week for a few months to help loosen my IT Band and strengthen my hip. We used steroids, massage, and ultrasound to lessen my hip’s inflammation, but, ultimately, PT ended up being a big waste of my time. The pain-relief that I experienced was only temporary, and the treatment never got to the root of my problem, so I stopped going all together. (Maybe I just had a bad Physical Therapist?)
On and off for the next year, I struggled with not being able to run. It was stressful and frustrating, and staying in shape wasn’t easy at first. Running was my go-to form of exercise for more than a decade, so I knew I needed to find other ways to incorporate exercise into my weekly routine. During this time, I tried all sorts of workouts: spinning, Gravity, yoga, Pilates, elliptical, power walking, and various exercise classes offered at my gym. What I liked most (and seemed to keep me in the best shape) was strength training classes, like Body Pump, because they challenged me, but didn’t strain my hip. I still (obsessively) take Body Pump class today.
After a few months of changing up my workouts, I was surprised to discover that my physical fitness didn’t wane all that much. Instead, I became much stronger than I expected— and even more toned—which ended up helping me start running again. Slowly, but surely, I started to two or three miles a couple times a week. Even though I was running again, I couldn’t stop thinking about my ultimate goal of running a marathon.
A few months pasted and an integrative health center called OMBE contacted me about my injury and my goal of running a marathon. (Their PR person read my blog!) I figured I had nothing to lose, so I met with their team.
OMBE offers a number of services from acupuncture and massage to naturopathy and yoga, so, in exchange for blogging about my experience on CNC, they would create an integrated treatment plan to help heal my hip. It sounded good to me— and maybe I’d be able to run a marathon!
At OMBE, I tried acupuncture, which was really cool and provided temporary pain relief in my hip. (I blogged about my experience here.) I also met with their chiropractor, Erik, who finally diagnosed the problem. Here’s a quick summary:
- My injury is most likely NOT bursitis!!! Erik thinks my hip pain is likely muscular.
- My injury is not “serious.” Meaning it’s not a joint or bone-on-bone issue.
- At-home heating (via heating pad) and stretching (and yoga) will help a great deal.
- I need to stop running– at least for a little while.
- My hips are misaligned (from scoliosis). My left hip is rotated forward, so when I run those muscles are working much harder (than the right side), which is why they are inflamed and hurt so much.
- It could take awhile for my hip to heal. My recovery depends on how my body responses to these treatments.
I went to Erik a few more times, but his services were really expensive (and not covered by my health insurance), so I stopped going. At this point, I was pretty much on my own, but I learned a lot from Erik with regard to managing the pain in my hip through heat and stretching.
A few months later, my hip felt better, so I signed up for a marathon– mostly because I am crazy. My hip was feeling better, but, to be honest, I’m not sure my body was 100% ready to run a marathon at that point, but I didn’t care. Running a marathon was a huge goal of mine, and I wanted to at least try. If there’s a will, there’s a way!!
Thankfully, Team in Training had a fantastic marathon training plan that eased me into running longer and longer distances. Even still, I encountered a number of injuries while training, which I documented in the posts below:
- My Experience With IT Band Pain
- How I Keep My IT Bands Healthy and Happy
- Preventing a Body Breakdown
- Dealing with Plantar Fasciitis
- How I Changed My Workouts
My Current Injury
Currently, I’m dealing with a weird knee pain. It’s likely “Runner’s Knee,” so I’m doing everything in my power to heal it and prevent it from coming back. I also realize “Runner’s Knee” is a very common injury, so I thought it would be helpful to talk about my experience.
Here’s what “Runner’s Knee” is all about (from Runner’s World):
… patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), or simply “runner’s knee,” is the most common overuse injury among runners. It occurs when a mistracking kneecap (patella) irritates the femoral groove in which it rests on the thighbone (femur).
PFPS can affect one or both knees. It strikes mostly younger, recreational runners and twice as many women as men… (Women tend to have wider hips, resulting in a greater angling of the thighbone to the knee, which puts the kneecap under more stress.)
Symptoms include tenderness behind or around the patella, usually toward its center. You may feel pain toward the back of the knee, a sense of cracking or that the knee’s giving out. Steps, hills, and uneven terrain can aggravate PFPS.
Runner’s World also explains how to help cure runner’s knee, which includes running on softer surfaces, keeping mileage increases less than 10 percent per week, and gradually increasing hill work in your program. They also suggest visiting a specialty running shop to make sure you’re wearing the proper shoes for your foot type and gait just like I did last week. Also, strengthening your quadriceps will improve patellar tracking, and stretching your hamstrings and calves will prevent over-pronation.
How I Prevent Injuries
Training for a marathon taught me a lot about myself, especially with regard to running and how much my body can handle. I know there are plenty of people out there, who run nearly every day of the week, and rarely get injured. Well, my body sort of hates running, so, when I am training for a race, I generally stick to three days of running (or less) each week.
The rest of my workouts are devoted to cross training, which I think is absolutely essential for me to stay injury-free. I talk about my perfect week of workouts in this post, which includes a mix of running, Body Pump, yoga, and rest.
I can’t even explain the wonders of ice. It’s my miracle drug! Ice reduces pain and inflammation, and keeps me running!
I use my Paradice Pack to ice my hip (and now my knee) after every single run I do— even the short ones. If I don’t, I know I’ll feel soreness the next day. I didn’t ice at all after my third half marathon in three weeks, which probably caused my knee pain in the first place. I also needed new sneakers, so I’m sure that didn’t help either.
My current icing routine is helping my knee a lot. It actually feels pretty much back to normal— although, I’m sure it’s from a combination of things (ice, stretching, foam rolling, yoga, rest), not just the ice.
After Saturday’s 9-mile run, my knee was incredibly sore, so I iced it for 15-20 minutes minutes while watching TV and drinking iced coffee. (I stretched at the store immediately after my run.) Later in the day, I iced my knee again (while drinking a beer), and before bed, I iced it again (15-20 minutes each time). I also took a dose of Ibuprofen before bed. (I did some foam rolling too.)
The next morning, my knee felt a zillion times better! I did the same routine on Sunday and Monday (with a 90-minute Slow Flow Yoga class mixed in), and I was able to complete a 5-mile Speed Workout on Tuesday afternoon without any pain! After the speed workout, I repeated the whole icing process on Tuesday evening and yesterday, and my knee is feeling really good now.
Foam rolling is also a lifesaver for me, especially because my misaligned hips and super tight IT bands.
I roll before and after running, and pretty much whenever I feel tight. I keep my foam roller in the living room to remind me to use it, and I often do it while watching TV. I roll for 5-30 minutes at a time and usually take breaks. I pretty much foam roll until my legs feel looser.
If you’ve never used a foam roller, Runner’s World has a great tutorial that explains a number of ways to use it.
I’ve said this before on CNC, but the quality of my running and related injuries directly correlates to the amount of yoga that I do. (I’ve also blogged about why I need yoga in my life.) When I start to slack on my yoga practice, I always seem to get injured, so I religiously take two yoga classes each week. Stretching out my legs (and back) in class definitely helps manage my tightness and prevents injuries.
If you can’t make it to a class, but you’re looking for some runner-specific yoga, YogaDownload.com has a FREE 20-minute session available on their website just for runners. It’s great! I’m also loving the Fire Log pose for tight hips. I do it a couple of times a day now.
If you currently struggling with an injury, I recommend that you see a doctor. Your problem might not be as simple as cross training, ice, foam rolling, and yoga. I know it’s valuable to hear about how other people have dealt with their injuries, but please remember that I am not a trained medical professional.