All too often, beginning runners suffer overuse injuries, usually because the excitement of undertaking a new exercise program outstrips the body’s capacity for exercise. These injuries are especially common among people who were previously inactive and have committed themselves to living a healthier lifestyle.
Compounding this issue, many beginning runners are unprepared for both the physical and emotional consequences of these injuries. While the wounds themselves are not terribly serious, the fallout can be devastating, especially from a mental standpoint.
Hopefully, this article can serve as a resource to help you not only understand common fitness injuries, but also give you the tools to recover from them.
Chondromalacia patellae, and similar knee injuries, is probably the most common fitness injury among runners. Essentially, the cartilage beneath the knee sustains damage, and without this natural shock absorber, the area swells up and becomes very painful, especially when the knee is flexed (e.g. walking up stairs). Here is a good description of the condition.
Depending on the extent of the injury, you may still have some mobility left in the knee. But do not let that mobility fool you into thinking that the injury will go away quickly, or that it will not have emotional consequences. The lack of activity, coupled with the disappointment of a suddenly derailed fitness program, are enough to bring anyone down.
Both these effects are temporary, and addressed through the methods outlined below.
IT Band Syndrome
Although ITB Syndrome pain presents in the knee, the problem usually begins in another area of the body, such as the hips. When the knees suddenly become more active and the other muscles aren’t strong enough to support the increased activity, ligaments become strained, and the IT Band is one of the largest ligaments in the leg. To read more about this condition, try this resource.
For some people, ITB syndrome pain is even worse than runner’s knee pain. So, the emotional consequences are usually worse as well. Fortunately, IT Band syndrome is also rather easy to address.
It is almost impossible to self-diagnose knee pain, because the issue could either be in the knee or the ligament. So, always see a doctor or trainer. Otherwise, you may wind up treating the wrong injury and thereby lose precious recovery time and risk further injury.
To address the physical consequences, the R.I.C.E. approach usually works best.
Rest: Get as much bedrest as possible, because that takes pressure off the muscle and also helps your body heal itself. If you must walk around, and everyone must do so from time to time, use crutches.
Ice: Twenty minutes of cold therapy should significantly reduce pain in the affected area, while also bringing down swelling and inflammation.
Compression: Gentle, even pressure supports the knee area until the muscle or cartilage recovers, helps decrease inflammation, and reduces the risk of further injury. These three things enable you to hobble around on crutches while the injury heals, so you at least have some mobility.
Elevation: While elevating the injured area above your heart will decrease inflammation, don’t get carried away, because prolonged elevation will decrease blood flow and actually impede healing.
Activity is also important to address the emotional consequences of a fitness injury. Cross training, such as biking or swimming, is a good way to stay active, release endorphins (natural morphine), and not get completely off track in terms of your fitness regimen.
A fitness injury, to the knee or other part of the leg, is not easy to deal with, but given the proper tools, both physical and emotional recovery is not far away.