If you were to listen in on discussions in groups of running enthusiasts, you’d know that there are two things that are discussed the most: “what’s your time” and injuries. Injuries are a constant concern for runners of all levels of ability and experience—either they are nursing one or they’re trying to avoid one.
Simta Sharma, a software programmer and recreational runner from Bengaluru, wasn’t always fast. When she started running, her training consisted of just running and nothing else. It wasn’t long before she suffered from an iliotibial band (IT band) band friction syndrome (see below), followed by a painful knee. Running coaches and sports medicine specialists say that running too much without any structured training plan is one of the most common reasons for injuries, as Sharma found out the hard way. “As much as 90% of running injuries are either attributed to over-training or poor biomechanics such as poor posture or wrong foot strike,” says sports scientist Shayamal Vallabhjee.
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Sharma learned by trial and error, and by interacting with coaches and other runners, introduced strength training and rest days in her training plan. She added new running workouts such as speed circuits, interval training and endurance and recovery runs. This made her training regimen more scientific and well-rounded. The changes paid off and resulted in multiple podium finishes including the Tata Mumbai Marathon and Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. “Apart from getting faster, my main aim is to avoid injuries now. But not everything goes to plan,” she says. Sharma is referring to the fact that she twisted her ankle on a poor stretch of road on the very first day of her hill training in Coonoor in early April. Poor infrastructure is the second biggest cause of injuries among runners in India.
Yet another cause of injuries among runners is inappropriate gear such as wrong footwear, socks, shorts and tops. While incorrect shoes could cause serious foot and/or leg injuries, wearing the wrong socks is a sure-shot way of ending up with blisters; and if your shorts and top aren’t the correct sweat-wicking kind, then you’ll be dealing with a lot of chafing.
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If you get injured, or if you want to avoid injuries, please consult a doctor or sports medicine expert. However, to help you understand what you’re dealing with, here’s a list of the most common running injuries and recommendations on how to recover.
Anterior knee pain is mainly caused due to runners usually having dominant quadricep muscles and weak hamstrings. This combination results in a patellar tendinopathy (pain localized to the patella or the kneecap) leading to post-run pain in the knees, says Vallabhjee.
How to fix it: Rest and ice. A longer-term solution would be to strengthen the posterior chain muscles such as hamstrings and glutes.
IT Band Friction Syndrome (ITBFS)
The IT band is a ligament that extends from the pelvic bone to the shinbone and stabilises the knee laterally. The ITBFS is a painful condition where the IT band becomes so tight that it rubs against the thighbone. This usually happens if the glutes are weak and the IT band has to compensate during a run.
How to fix it: First, use a foam roller on the IT band. Next, incorporate glute strengthening exercises such as glute bridges, hip thrusts and squats in your workout.
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If you increase your speed or your distance too soon, then you can experience severe pain in the shins. This can also happen if you’re running too fast with a heavy heel strike on downhill sections of a run. “Shin splints could start off as a simple inflammation or be as severe as a stress fracture,” warns Vallabhjee.
How to fix it: Ice the area and stop running. Get medical advice if pain persists.
Inflammation of the thick connective tissues that support the arches on the bottom of the feet are usually caused by tight calf muscles. Tight calf muscles, in turn, could be related to inadequate cushioning or flexibility in the soles of your running shoes. Runners with very high or low arches are especially susceptible to this.
How to fix it: Strengthen and stretch the achilles tendon and calf muscles and the plantar fascia (the ligament that connects your heel to the front of your foot).
This is more often than not an infrastructure-induced injury due to pot-holed roads or the poor tracks that we are forced to run on. Apart from twisted ankles, runners also complain of falls and scrapes because most runners have to start early morning in less than adequate light conditions to avoid the heat.
How to fix it: Rest, ice and use a crepe bandage for twisted ankles. Do not run till the ankle is completely healed.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.