Running Injuries: Are You ‘Powering Through’ or Losing the Race?

Runner's feet

Running can have enormous benefits to your health, including reducing the risk of heart disease, improving mood, and strengthening your bones. Most runners can testify that, alongside the joys and benefits of this popular exercise, pain is a frequent running partner. As an athlete, your instinct may be to “power through” the pain, but this could set you back more than you realize.

Some injuries, such as shin splints and minor muscle strains, are common and can be effectively self-treated, leading many runners to ignore the signs of more serious injury. Many common running injuries call for a visit to the doctor—before you get taken out of the race.

The key to a successful running regimen always starts with paying attention to your body, knowing your limits, and having a plan for your exercise routine. Stretching, strength training, and incorporating other fitness activities in your exercise routine can help prevent overuse. But when you have persistent pain, it’s time to seek the help of a specialist.

Common Running Injuries and Treatment Options

Runners often turn to RICE—Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation—when pain or injury strikes. This can be a great method for minor running injuries. But what are some more serious running injuries that call for the help of a specialist?

Stress Fracture

Experiencing a stress fracture, a small crack in the surface of the bone, frequently in the foot or shin, is not uncommon for runners. Seeking proper treatment is important, however, as a stress fracture can worsen if not properly treated, and even develop into a complete break.

Stress Fracture Treatment Options

While your doctor may advise the RICE method for stress fracture treatment in your foot, sometimes a cast or boot is necessary for proper healing. In some cases, surgery is needed to place pins or screws holding the foot or ankle bones together during the healing process.

Achilles Tendonitis

The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, located at the back of the ankle, attaching the calf muscle to the heel. When the tendon tightens, becoming irritated due to too much stress, tendonitis is the result. Achilles tendonitis can develop over time, with symptoms of ache, pain, or tenderness in the feet, ankle, or heel. A sudden pain or swelling could indicate a ruptured tendon.

ACL Tears

That dreaded “pop” sound is what many athletes associate with an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, a painful tear of one of the major ligaments in the knee. The popping noise doesn’t occur for everyone, and other signs of an ACL tear include soreness along the joint line of the knee, pain when putting pressure on the leg, swelling, and reduced range of motion. Seeking treatment is important and can help minimize the risk of developing osteoarthritis at the site of the injury later in life.

Achilles Tendonitis and ACL Injury Treatment Options

Runner's kneeIt’s important to consult your doctor if you think you may have Achilles tendonitis, as it can lead to more serious injury if left untreated. Also, your doctor may diagnose a more serious injury, such as a tendon tear or rupture.

Both Achilles tendonitis and ACL injuries can sometimes be treated with rest, orthotics, wraps for motion restriction, or anti-inflammatory medications. Sometimes physical therapy is recommended, and West Suburban Medical Center physicians can provide referrals to the excellent physical therapy program at the Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Center at the River Forest Medical Campus. If these treatments don’t work, or if the injury is more serious, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Joint Pain and Injury

While the health benefits of running are enormous, running places repetitive stress on joints. Joint pain and injury, especially in the hip or knee, is commonly experienced by runners.

Joint Pain Treatment Options

To address joint point, an orthopedic specialist may suggest non-surgical options, such as rehabilitation or injections, minimally-invasive arthroscopic techniques, or surgery, including joint replacement. West Suburban Medical Center orthopedic surgeons are able to perform hip and knee replacements if surgery is right for you.

Some patients qualify for hip resurfacing, an option for active adults who are younger than 60 years old, as an alternative to total hip replacement. More than 90 percent of patients of hip resurfacing were able to resume their running activities after surgery.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitisIf you’re a serious runner, you’ve probably been in more than one enthusiastic conversation about the importance of your foot strike. No matter if you’re a heel striker or a believer in the forefront method, your foot absorbs the force of an impact several times your body weight with each step. If you begin to experience what feels like bruising or a dull ache along your arch or on your heel, especially if it seems worse first thing in the morning, you may have plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation or small tears of tendons and ligaments that run from toes to heel.

Plantar Fasciitis Treatment Options

Resting and stretching can be a good start for managing and preventing plantar fasciitis. If the problem persists, it might be time to consult a podiatrist at West Suburban Medical Center. A podiatrist can help diagnose the problem and make recommendations for treatment, including orthotics or physical therapy.

“Runner’s Knee”

Running causes repeated stress to the knee, and there are a number of conditions that fall under the name “Runner’s knee”, including:

  • Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome: IT Band Syndrome is caused by friction of an overly tight IT band—the connective tissue on the outer part of the thigh and knee—rubbing against bone.
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS): This is one of the most common causes of knee pain in runners, and may disproportionately affect women. PFPS can feel like a dull ache in and around the kneecap, caused by muscle imbalances that shift the kneecap when running.

“Runner’s Knee” Treatment Options

Runner’s Knee can often be managed with RICE and stretching, but may require other interventions, such as physical therapy or injections. An orthopedic specialist might order an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI in order to make treatment recommendations or to rule out other conditions.

Get Back on Track

While many common overuse injuries can be managed and prevented without medical intervention, it’s always a good idea to contact your physician if you experience sudden or chronic pain. At West Suburban Medical Center, our experts can help diagnose and treat musculoskeletal injuries for runners, to get you back on track.

At West Suburban Medical Center, everything from orthopedics and podiatry to sports medicine rehabilitation and physical therapy is conveniently available from our dedicated specialists—many of whom are athletes themselves.