Running Overuse Injuries

Many of us runners do run some of our highest mileage of the year in the fall whether it be due to a fall marathon, cross country season or just because we enjoy it. Higher mileage can sometimes lead to overuse injuries if we are not careful. 

I absolutely love running in the fall. The temperatures are ideal almost all day long. The changing leaves are beautiful. The air is crisp and smells good. And of course, fall is cross country season so there is a certain amount of nostalgia mixed in. If I could, I would probably try to run every single day during the fall months. In the years that I ran the Chicago Marathon in early October, I would feel a little sad that I had to take time off after the race and couldn’t keep running through the golden leaves and cool mornings. 

What is an overuse injury? Put simply, an overuse injury is caused by too much impact and too little recovery. They happen gradually over time. The other type of injury is an “acute” injury which is something that happens in one moment like a sprained ankle or getting a cut. 

This week we will go over 3 common overuse injuries and how to avoid them. If you just so happen to be beyond the point of prevention and you think you might have one of these overuse injuries I strongly recommend consulting with a sports medicine professional like an athletic trainer, physical therapist or doctor. 

  • Plantar Fasciitis – The plantar fascia is a layer of tissue that covers the bottom of your foot. It can become irritated and painful  when someone spends too much time on their feet. In addition to being a common running overuse injury, plantar fasciitis happens a lot to people whose jobs require lots of standing or walking (nurses, restaurant waitstaff). The fascia is closely linked to the Achilles tendon, so having tight calf muscles can also exacerbate this injury. 
  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (“Runner’s Knee”) – Despite having a nickname related to running, PFPS is the most common type of knee pain in all physically active people. It is characterized by a general, annoying knee pain that can be hard to localize to just one spot. 
  • Stress Fracture – A stress fracture is a broken bone that gradually happens over time from too much impact on the bone. These are no less serious than an acute fracture. However, because they don’t happen in one painful moment and don’t break through the skin, they can sometimes be accidentally ignored or missed. It is a common misconception that stress fractures don’t show up on an x-ray. They just look different on an x-ray. There isn’t always an obvious fracture line but there are other types of evidence that a trained sports medicine physician will see. 
What can be done to prevent an overuse injury? Here are some easy things you can do to protect yourself. 
  1. Increase your mileage gradually. As tempting as it may be to start running every day in the fall, it is very important to always give your body at least one day of complete rest per week. If you were running 3 days per week all summer, it is perfectly safe to increase to 4 or 5 days. Our bodies need a little time to adapt to increased impact. Remember, they are called “overuse injuries” because they happen from overusing a body part.
  2. Listen to your body.  Our bodies give us signs that we are overdoing it long before overuse injuries appear. If you are feeling much more fatigued than usual or much more sore, you may need extra rest. If you are feeling crabby or going for a run sounds like a yucky chore instead of fun, you may be on the verge of over training. 
  3. Correct any imbalances,  In earlier posts I have written about things like movement assessments, gait analysis and corrective exercises. If you are planning to increase your running mileage, it would be a really great idea to have a trained professional evaluate your movement patterns and/or gait. Running thousands of steps on a movement imbalance can cause an injury to set in more quickly. 

If you are hoping to take advantage of the beautiful fall weather in Minnesota by running more frequently, Superior Running Medicine would be happy to help you do so safely!

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