A lot of beginner runners become turned off from the sport due to the soreness, tightness and overall pain experienced after just a week or two of short runs. While I will never encourage you to push yourself to the point of injury, I will say that there are things you can do to ease the pain without throwing in the towel. Ice and a foam roller should become your best friends. Foam rollers have a multitude of uses and can stretch out just about any muscle on your body (save for the ones you need your tennis ball creation for). For this post I’ll narrow down my advice to two of the most common running pains: shin splints and knee pain.
Shin splints- These were something I knew of but never personally experienced until I began college basketball. All of a sudden I was putting in 3 hours of pounding the court a day and my legs just couldn’t adjust quickly enough. Shin splints are highly common in runners and typically appear after a sharp increase in intensity or duration. The runner will experience a sort of throbbing pain in the front of their leg from the ankle joint sometimes all the way up to the knee. For me, it felt like a thousand little needles had all dipped themselves in lava and attacked my shin. The bad news is, there is no quick fix for these, but there are some steps you can take…
- Ice. Ice will be your best friend if you are experiencing shin splints, but when I say ice, I don’t mean throw some cubes in a bag and plop it on your leg for 5 minutes. Icing should be done 2-3 times in 20 minute increments (with breaks inbetween). You get shin splints because your muscles become inflamed and start rubbing up against bone, tendon and other parts of the leg they shouldn’t be hitting. The point of ice is to help decrease inflammation, but it only works if you truly let the cold sink in. It will burn (yes the cold will burn), and if you are like me you will whine about it for the first 10 minutes, but after that the lovely numbing sensation will wash over you, the inflammation will go down and the pain will subside. So ice, ice baby.
- New shoes. When is the last time you got a new pair of shoes? If you are just starting running again, chances are it’s been a while. Or maybe you just bought a new pair, but they don’t have the support you need. Either way, go out to a place like fleet feet where you pay a little more than that amazon prime deal, but you get a shoe that fits YOU. I dealt with many a shin splint episodes when I first started toward my half marathon goal, and believe you me, my trip to the shoe store made ALL the difference.
- Rest. No, I don’t mean sit on your bum all your bum Netflix binging for a week. I mean work in a few rest days if you are starting to experience shin splint symptoms. The pain is a signal from your body to slow down. It’s a GOOD thing because it’s forcing you to taper down before something serious happens. So take a day off and maybe re-work your training plan to include a few more off/easy days.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome (knee pain)– Knee pain can mean a lot of different things, but if it’s pain on the outside of your knee, a good bet is it has to do with your IT band. This type of injury is a very common overuse injury in runners (especially new runners), and it can’t be extremely painful. Your IT band is a ligament that runs down the outside of the thigh and attaches to the outside of the knee to help stabilize the joint. It is very easy for this ligament to be overworked and under-stretched, leading to increased inflammation and pain. This type of injury can be severe enough to sideline you for weeks, so it’s best to stop it before it happens. But how?? Glad you asked
- Stretch! It’s extremely important to stretch out your muscles after workouts, but it is especially important to get those legs loosened up after a run. While most people know typical hamstring and quadriceps stretches, the IT band is often left out entirely. Big mistake. Before you stretch anything else, stretch that IT band (here’s how: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoHBDim_fzk). If you start to feel pain on the outside of your knee, slow down your workouts, or take a few days off and REALLY focus on stretching (especially that IT band). If you don’t have a foam roller, a wonderful trick is to freeze a water bottle and do the same exercise with it. All the roller is really doing is using your body weight plus a roller to smooth our your muscle much the same way a rolling pin would smooth out some cookie dough. So you can even recreate this action by holding the water bottle in your hands (or hey, a rolling pin) and rolling it directly over the muscle. I’m not going to lie, this hurts beyond any imaginable pain. You will want to stop and never do it again. However, if you are feeling pain, it is because your muscle is way too tight and you should be reassured you need this stretch more than ever.
- Ice. For all the same reasons listed above. Ice your knee, but then also ice down your leg because that IT band runs down your whole leg. It’s only manifesting itself in your knee. Even if you aren’t feeling any pain, just ice your leg. It helps.
- Check your programming. Then check again. Make sure the training plan you have in place is at your level of progression and has plenty of built in rest days. If you DO get pain, take a couple extra days off and focus on the stretching and icing.
I have personally experienced both of these injuries, and I promise you, neither one is something to ignore or take lightly. The best treatment is prevention, and the best prevention is to listen to your body. Pain is not a precept for panic. Pain is your body’s warning sign. So pay attention.
Stay tuned for a post about the most important thing you can ever consume—water. It’s the miracle for everything (weightloss, exercise, dehydration, etc), and you likely aren’t drinking enough of it.
(P.S. if you have no idea what or where a foam roller is: http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=the+foam+roller&tag=googhydr-20&index=aps&hvadid=33847003555&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=512234692207917423&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_12ptjw42bo_b
White is less dense (meaning it will feel softer) and black is the most dense. I suggest black because you can always take some pressure off it is too much. You can find these at any sporting stores as well as walmart and target if you aren’t an amazon fiend like me. )