This post isn’t actually meant to divulge any actual secrets of visiting an orthopedic surgeon or undergoing physical therapy, but I thought that since so many friends are suffering from overuse/biomechanical injuries, I figured I’d share some of my experiences to shed some light on what you can expect, and what you can do at home to get well. I’ve been through enough physical therapy and orthopedic surgeon visits to cover all your deductibles, so this is me sharing the wealth.
First, disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, just a girl who has experienced an undue number of overuse injuries later on in her athletic career. This post does not constitute medical advice. If you’ve tried at-home care and haven’t experienced any relief, please, please, PLEASE see a doctor.
My experiences with sports injuries began when I was about 15 or 16, which, given the amount of training I was doing as a competitive swimmer, was lucky. My trouble began after a set of stadium runs at my local giant college football stadium. The pain in the front of my hip became so intense that, at my coach’s recommendation, I saw an orthopedic surgeon, and was diagnosed with iliopsoas bursitis. I learned that the forward and upward motion of running stadiums, as well as a strength imbalance, had likely caused the excruciatingly painful inflammation. I struggled with this injury throughout my college swimming career, and it still pops up from time to time when I run.
But—and here’s the good part—over time, I’ve learned to manage and even prevent the pain from returning. I’ve also applied these same principles to other overuse injuries I’ve experienced as a runner. And none of these are really ground-breaking or expensive methods. Very basic stuff.
Ice. Doctors and physical therapists (PTs) aren’t kidding when they tell you to ice often. In college, I used to hobble around campus with a bag of ice strapped to my hip after each practice. If you’re not interested in being that fashionable, try an ice massage. Fill a medium-sized paper Dixie cup with water, then freeze. Peel back the paper to expose the ice. Massage until you stop crying because the cold is so uncomfortable (at least that’s what I do!). Ice baths are also very helpful for shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and sore feet in general, so give one a try if you’re dealing with IT band or calf issues. Lastly, I can’t stress enough the importance of using plain, old-fashioned, 20th-century ice for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Gel packs are not cold enough.
Special note about heat: I’ve experienced cortisone treatments via ultrasound as a pain management/warm-up technique before workouts, and they helped me a lot with the bursitis in my hip. Heat may help you before a workout, too, but use heat only before a workout. You don’t want to heighten the level of inflammation.
Naproxen. If you went to an orthopedic surgeon with an overuse injury, he or she would likely prescribe around 800 mg/day of naproxen (Aleve) or some other powerful NSAID. Of course, take what works for you and in lesser amounts than prescription-dose, and skip this if you can’t take these types of anti-inflammatory medications.
Rest. There’s a reason that your tendinitis flares up when you continue to run. Same with bursitis. Your body needs time to heal overuse injuries, so do not push through. Repeat: do not push through the pain. You risk permanent damage if you continue to run on overuse injuries.
Massage. This is basically 25 percent of physical therapy. Don’t be afraid to foam roll or use a tennis ball to alleviate the tightness that is often associated with overuse injuries.
Stretch. This is another 25 percent of physical therapy. Because I’m not a PT, I’d suggest you search the Internet for examples of injury-specific stretching if you don’t know where to start. If you know what works for you, stretch often. Slacking on this front tends to hold you back. I know there’s a lot of conflicting research out there when it comes to stretching and exercise, but I find that stretching is integral to the healing process for me.
Strengthen your weak areas, most likely your hips. And this is essentially the other half of physical therapy. I either heard or read somewhere recently that because we spend so much time sitting, our hips aren’t as strong as they could be. My lack of hip strength directly contributed to each of my running injuries, according to my doctors, and it’s incredible how many different injuries are essentially the result of a strength imbalance in the hips. Google around if you’re not sure where to start with rehab exercises. Most are minor exercises that you’d think of as secondary, such as hip adductors and abductors or calf raises. Many times, these exercises are done with minimal resistance, using bands or very light weights, since your body lacks strength in targeted areas. I’ve been told it’s normal to have soreness after beginning these exercises, too, which is a little disconcerting. In particular, lower-leg exercises to help rehab a stress fracture made me feel worse initially, but I trusted in my doctor’s plan, and my leg improved as I became stronger.
Another critical note: don’t forget to strengthen both sides of your body. Most people have a dominant side or foot that they lead with while running or cycling, so pay attention to balance the strength on both sides of your body. You don’t want to repeat the injury process on the opposite side.
Shorten your stride. This simple change, which I read about in a past issue of Runner’s World, has helped me immensely. I realized that I tend to have more shin pain when I pick up the pace, because I’m not a very technically proficient runner, my strides get longer. I can vouch for this technique helping with shin splints, IT band pain, and hip issues.
Change your shoes. If all else fails, your shoes may be the problem. Head to a local running store to get fitted for the correct pair. Ever since Varsity Sports put me in Brooks Adrenalines, I haven’t had any shin pain, and my hips and IT bands have held up pretty well. It’s incredible how much of a difference the right pair of shoes makes.
Again, if you’re in a lot of pain and aren’t sure what to do, please consider seeing an orthopedic surgeon or some type of sports medicine doctor. If you’re given exercises or a rehab plan à la physical therapy, stick with it. Injuries are often a part of sports, but they don’t have to sideline you for too long.