We ask a lot of our bodies when we run. The force through our joints and our legs easily exceeds three times our body weight – so it’s not all too surprising that a large portion of our patients are either regular runners, or developed their symptoms when wanting to get into running.
Today, we’re sharing the top four pains and problems we see and treat in runners, here in Auckland.
1. Shin Splints
Medically referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints describe pain to the front and inside of the shins that often comes on during running and physical activity. The trick with shin splints in runners is that there are two other conditions that closely mirror the symptoms: a stress fracture to the shin bone (tibia), and compartment syndrome.
Effectively treating shin splints means looking at the way the muscles that attach to the front of the shins are being used when running. Often, biomechanical factors and poor foot posture means these muscles are overused and strained – flat feet, or pronation, is often a contributing factor. We must check the runner’s shoes and how they are affecting their performance and the way the shins and the muscles are being used. It’s also important to check how a runner is warming up, recovering after running, and stretching. Tight muscles, joint limitations and improper muscle conditioning are also common culprits in the development of shin splints.
2. Knee Pain
In any 12-month period, up to 70% of runners will sustain an injury from running – and 42% of these will be to the knee. There are two primary causes of knee pain we often see in runners – runner’s knee, medically referred to as patellofemoral pain syndrome, and iliotibial band syndrome.
Runner’s knee is an overuse injury caused by the irregular movement (tracking) and rubbing of the patella over the femur, while the knee is bending and straightening. Instead of gliding smoothly through a groove at the thigh bone, the poor alignment of the knee means the patella can mistrack and instead rub against the bone itself. This causes irritation at the joint and damage to the underlying cartilage and bone.
Iliotibial band syndrome is when the thick connective tissue called the iliotibial band (ITB) that runs down the outside of your thigh rubs against the outside of the knee joint, causing pain, swelling and damage to the tissue fibres. It’s common in runners as the rubbing tends to happen when you bend and straighten the knee repetitively – especially when you have a tight ITB.
Treating knee pain in runners effectively must focus on not only relieving the pain and helping repair the existing damage, but also addressing the cause to help prevent it from happening again in the future. Often this involves using a combination of custom foot orthotics, ensuring adequate footwear use, a targeted strengthening and stretching program, and changes to the running technique based on findings from a video gait analysis.
3. Calf Pain
Your calves are very important when you run – working up to 25% harder than your quads when running. When you need to stop or quickly change direction, they’re the ones that help you do so safely without injury. They help to stabilise your knee and absorb a large amount of force when you run. Hence, runners with calf pain is a common occurrence.
The most common cause we see for calf pain is overuse without the right preparation and conditioning, often combined with unaddressed tightness. Yep – we told you those super simple calf stretches could prevent injury! Treating calf pain involves addressing all the factors that are contributing to the overloading and strain, identified during the biomechanical assessment – which often includes a stretching program, strengthening, correcting any abnormal foot and leg biomechanics, and even looking at a little gait retraining to optimise performance and movement.
4. Heel Pain
When it comes to heel pain in runners, plantar fasciitis heel pain is a biggie. You’ll often hear of people referring to this pain as ‘heel spurs’ – though this is medically and physiologically incorrect. Plantar fasciitis heel pain is characterised by sharp, shooting and stabbing pain at the bottom and inside of the heel. It tends to be most painful when you stand after rest – especially after sleeping – before easing as you continue to walk.
Treatment must be specific and effective in order to prevent the tissue damage from progressing to a more severe injury – like a tear in the plantar fascia tissue – or even a rupture. We have a proven treatment that we find to be very successful, which includes temporary strapping, the use of good running shoes if you’re not wearing some already, custom-prescribed foot orthotics that address all structural and biomechanical foot and leg issues, and a stretching and strengthening program.
So, what’s stopping you from running?
If you’ve got a pain or problem during or after running, whether we’ve mentioned it above or it’s something completely different or unusual, we’d love to help. Treating foot and leg pain is what we do! And we have the best technology, skills and experience to allow us to do it excellently.
Book your appointment online by clicking here or call us on 09 523 2333