Injuries are not uncommon with endurance athletes. In fact, some may feel that they are always nursing along some injury just to get them through the next race. Here, we will discuss when it may be a good idea to see a doctor and some initial principals in caring for new injuries.
Obviously, pain is concerning, but pain is often a way of life for endurance athletes. Muscles hurt, lungs burn, and feet get sore. Thankfully, most all these things generally get better after exercise and improve with more exercise. Pain that is asymmetric, progressive with exercise, or worse after exercise is more likely to be a sign of an injury. In addition, it is generally easier to treat an illness in the first few weeks than after a few months.
So now you are injured what do you do? Most of us have heard of the acronym RICE and most athletes are good at doing the ICE part. Let’s review it briefly.
Rest: “What?!? I have to rest?!? I can’t rest right now!” One of the hardest parts of my practice is getting people to rest, but it is often the most important. Healing takes time. Now, rest can mean different things to different people and we often use the term ‘Relative Rest’. Individual situations vary, but essentially this is allowing you to do anything that does not increase you pain during or after the activity. Usually, cross-training is alright. Remember we are trading a short-term sacrifice for a long term gain.
Ice: Never the wrong answer. Use anytime you have swelling or a new injury. Up to 20 minutes at a time and at least 30 minutes in between icings. May increase blood flow when removed more than heat does. A variation is ice massage. Fill a paper cup with water and freeze it. Tear off the rim and use the smooth ice surface to massage the affected area toward the heart for 15 minutes. On the other hand, heat is great for relaxing muscle spasm and to help you warm up before exercise.
Compression: Another way to decrease swelling. May support injured muscles or tendons. Use an ACE bandage or Neoprene Sleeve.
Elevation: Once again, decrease swelling. Get that fluid back into the blood stream.
Over the next few weeks we will address some of the most common running injuries.
Matt Evans, MD