Returning from injury is never easy for anyone involved in some kind of physical activity. As someone who's never really been injured, because I never used to do anything, I feel totally lost. My injury wasn't anything severe, but it's still nagging at times and I don't want to further injure myself leading up to my training for a full marathon. Thus, I reached out to Timothy Enwright, PT/OT director from The Christ Hospital Joint & Spine Center for some expert advice:
As a runner, what are some steps I can take to better prevent injury?
There are many things that you can do as an athlete to prevent potential injuries. Initially, in an activity such as running, you must train gradually to build up to the distances that you want to achieve. You have to, "Do your homework." For example, I historically have performed long distance cycling. I remember one event that I participated in years ago where I failed to train adequately. I quickly realized this misstep on the first day of the event at around mile 50 with another 25 miles to go for the day. I laughed to myself when I realized that you can "cram" for a test in school, but you can't do the same with exercise. You have to prepare. Also, it is advisable to prepare your whole body for the event that you are planning to complete in by making sure that you always warm up properly for your workouts, and immerse yourself in the task at hand. Make sure that you are stretching properly, and targeting the correct tissues. Furthermore, strengthening muscles is often overlooked, but very valuable toward preventing injuries. Finally, pace yourself. Your body needs rest (recovery) from exercise, so consider cross training and variability in your exercise. The body responds best to variety in training. So consider new exercises/surfaces/pace/intensity.
What do we do about those minor "nagging" injuries that won't quite go away, but aren't enough to keep us sidelined?
First, I would advise anyone to see a physician if he or she has an injury. You need to be careful to prevent further injury or damage. I am always concerned about localized joint pain and persistent swelling. If it is a chronic soft tissue injury, often times targeted stretching/strengthening, and modification of activities can help. Finally, obtain a referral to see a physical therapist. Sometimes all you need is a visit or two to learn an effective home exercise program.
Is RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) still the best course of action for injuries/soreness?
Yes! However, it has been modified over the years recently to be referred to as PRICE to include protection: protect the injured tissue by using crutches, for example, or a brace.
What about heat?
Great question. When in doubt, use ice. You can put ice on almost any condition and not make it worse, but heat, when applied to the wrong condition, at the wrong time, can make symptoms worse. This is because ice reduces blood flow, and heat increases blood flow to the area applied. So, if you have an acute ankle sprain, it would be a very bad idea to apply heat as it would increase the blood flow to the area, and increase the swelling, and potentially cause further injury to the tissues. However, heat does have a purpose, and it is usually with chronic conditions to increase blood flow, and promote healing.
Any advice for someone like me who beats themselves up when injuries get in the way?
My personal advice is to take a different perspective. Remind yourself that injuries happen to everyone. Give yourself credit for the fact that you are pushing yourself to improve, and that requires an inner strength and drive that many people simply lack. Learn from your injuries, and see them less as obstacles, and more as opportunities to gain a better understanding of your body and its restorative potential. Sometimes we need to alter the things that we do, or the way that we do them, but maybe it will lead to a new experience that enhances our lives in ways that we would not have previously imagined.
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