Avoiding Injury: The Basics
Most runners should devote at least one or two days a week to rest or nonrunning activities. This gives your body a chance to recover, rebuild, and heal itself. It is also helpful to maintain a running diary, which should contain your mileage, intensity, course, and brief notes on how you felt during each run. Such a record can help trace the origin of any number of training errors.
Not only do your mileage, frequency of running, the course you run, and the times you post matter, but there are other factors that contribute to how you feel and how your training progresses. You will find that taking note of physical infirmities like a scratchy throat, headache, or a bloated feeling can help you pinpoint when you began developing something more serious.
The quality of your running can be affected by the medications you take, the amount you sleep at night, time changes when you travel, dietary changes, and increased stress on the job or at home. Your running diary may become so much more to you than a simple record, leaving you amazed when you look back after a year has gone by.
Inflammation (characterized by pain, swelling, redness, and warmth) is an expected by-product of injury. When inflammation occurs at the site of an injury, treat the area with ice (see icing guidelines below). Above all, do not treat the area of an acute injury with heat of any kind, wet or dry, for several days.
Consider taking several days off from running and from any other sports that cause stress to an injured area. After 72 hours or so, you can try taking some anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium) for the injury, being careful to follow dosing instructions to ensure you maintain a therapeutic dose in your system. If the pain persists, see a physician for a thorough examination of the injury.
As long as the injury does not warrant immediate medical attention, icing can be the single most effective treatment for an acute injury. Apply ice to the area for 20 minutes and repeat this three to five times a day until the pain is gone. You can apply crushed ice, a cold pack, or a bag of frozen peas to do the icing. Do not ice for more than 20 minutes of each hour, because it is possible to develop frostbite if the tissue is very cold for too long.
Heat is a relaxing therapeutic measure that can be introduced later, after significantly reducing or eliminating inflammation of the injury site. Applying a hot pack wrapped in a towel for 10–15 minutes at a time may bring relief to minor injuries on the mend. But be sure to not overdo it, since heat is not an anti-inflammatory and it can cause swelling.
If all of these remedies fail, consider visiting a physician familiar with sports injuries and with experience treating runners to obtain an assessment of the injury and treatment advice. (Details on how to find a sports physician are found at the end of this chapter.) The most important information a physician can provide is whether you can continue to run without modification of your training schedule; if you can continue to run with a reduced workload; or if you must completely rest the injury site (that is, no running). Your physician can also tell you whether you should add cross-training activities to your schedule, both to maintain cardiovascular fitness and to strengthen the injury site.
To properly ice an injury, use an ice cup. Fill a small Styrofoam® cup with water and then place it in the freezer. When it is completely frozen, peel the top of the cup down to expose an inch or two of ice. Massage the injured area with the ice cup for 5–6 minutes until the area is numb. As the ice melts, peel down more of the cup and continue until the time is up. Ice the area again an hour or two later, but not more often than once per hour.