Doing too much too soon is the most common cause of chronic running injuries. While the prescription for each ailment is unique, there are common mistakes runners make that often prolong recovery time, or make their injuries worse.
Here are some of the common ways that runners exacerbate their injuries. Physical therapist and strength and conditioning specialist Mike Riccardi, of Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York, offers tips on how to avoid them.
Ignoring your pain and running through it. “This is probably the biggest mistake that runners make,” says Riccardi. Often, he sees runners who train through weeks of discomfort, assuming it will go away on its own, or with rest or ice, only to see it get increasingly worse as race day approaches.
At the first sign of discomfort, take a few days off and do some light stretching or foam rolling before trying an easy run a few days later. “If it still bothers you, take a week off,” says Riccardi. “While you may be worried that you’re falling behind, it's better to miss a few days early on to take care of something than miss your race because you forced yourself to run through pain too many times.” If after a week off you still feel pain, see a physical therapist or medical professional to determine what the problem is and how to resolve it.
Overdoing the over-the-counter painkillers. Recent research has brought NSAIDs into question (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications). A July 2017 study of ultramarathoners by researchers at Stanford University concluded that people who take NSAIDs while running ultra distances double their risks of acute kidney injury.
Plus, they mask pain that is an important signal you may need to pay attention to.
Patients often as Riccardi about painkillers. He says he prefers runners don’t take them on a regular basis during their workouts. “If irritation or injury emerges, I want to know exactly what they feel so I can better understand the problem,” he says. “If they mask the pain, then they can't give a detailed description [of what is wrong].” Plus, he says, they might cause further damage. Rather than ignore the pain, take a rest day. Your body is asking for it.
Becoming a couch potato while you’re injured, and losing all the fitness you worked so hard to gain.
While RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), has been the conventional treatment strategy for injuries, in recent years, medical professionals have shifted towards recommending more active recovery. The new strategy, says Riccardi, is M-E-A-T (Movement, Exercise, Analgesics, Treatment). While some rest is good, Riccardi says that movement is the best thing to help increase blood flow and clear out swelling.
“It’s easy to do too much, but you also prolong the healing process when you sit on the couch all day,” he says. “It's more about finding a balance of moving enough to keep blood flowing without straining your injury so much that it grows more swollen or sore.” That sense of “balance” is different for everyone, so find a physical therapist who can tailor an active recovery strategy that suits your unique needs.
You try to compensate for the fact that you’re not running by cross-training like crazy. Injuries and layoffs can be tough on the mind and the body, but too much cross training can lead to new injuries.
“If what you're doing for cross training is also causing pain, then it's setting you back or prolonging your recovery as much as running,” Riccardi says. Cross training should be pain free and, ideally, help you develop fitness that carries over to your running performance.” Vary your cross-training activities to create full-body fitness.