You can tell when it’s springtime in the Lowcountry, and not just by the gnats or pollen. Nope, the throngs of runners and joggers out training for the Bridge Run are the surest harbinger of our favorite season.
As a doctor, I love to see people out exercising and getting healthier. But as a foot surgeon, I admit to cringing every now and then when I see someone with an out-of-kilter gait or worn out shoes that I know may injure their knees or feet.
I applaud all of you out there getting ready to Get Over It, and those of you who may just be easing out of your winter hiatus and getting back in shape. As a sports medicine specialist, my goal is to help you run to your heart’s content (and it’s true, your heart will be more content, and healthy, because you are running!). So here’s a rundown of three common foot injuries we see, and tips for avoiding them.
1. Plantar Fasciitis
This inflammation in the bottom of the foot is one of the most painful, and pesky, runners’ injuries. The sharp and occasionally excruciating pain near the base of the heel can feel okay during a run, but then come back. It’s a tease, and a hard-to-beat cycle. The injury results from weak foot muscles, making the heel take an excess load, and can be exacerbated by overtraining, overuse and improper footwear. Orthotics and proper stability shoes can help ease symptoms, but to address the underlying issue, you need to ice the affected area and stretch and strengthen your calves and feet (rolling on a golf or tennis ball is great). The key is to be diligent with stretching and strengthening the muscles in and around the feet. Check out my House Calls TV video that tells you more about treating plantar fasciitis.
2. Runner’s Knee
This common injury creates pain below the knee cap (also called patellofemoral knee syndrome) that usually worsens as you increase exercise intensity. It’s typically caused by the inability of the tissues surrounding the knee to recover in between runs, so the best fix is rest. If your knee continues to hurt, don’t run, and reduce any inflammation with icing and ibuprofen. Try switching up the surfaces you run on and strengthening the knee, and be sure your footwear is proper for you. A sports medicine specialist can evaluate your foot strike and help correct your form.
3. Achilles Tendonitis
A cousin to plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis appears as pain just the above the heel where the Achilles tendon—a cord-like structure at the back of the ankle, attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone. When the tendon can’t keep up with increased stress from running, the tissue breaks down and chronic inflammation can lead to tissue damage and sometimes even tendon rupture. To prevent Achilles tendonitis, make sure you wear shoes with a slight heel to toe drop, avoid steep hills and hard surfaces when possible, warm up and stretch daily, and gradually increase training volume and intensity. Heel lifts or a gel heel cup might also help.
Prevention is Best!
In general, training smart and staying injury free means not overdoing it. Here are 8 Tips for preventing over-use injuries.
- Progress slowly, not increasing training volumes by more than 10% each week. Keep a log to keep track.
- Listen to your body and rest when you are sore and achy.
- Address all injuries, no matter how minor it may seem.
- Plan for recovery time – it’s a critical training component.
- STRETCH! Every day.
- Include a strengthening component in your training plan (weights, lunges, etc).
- Correct biomechanical issues.
- Warm up and cool down adequately, every workout.
By Dr. Jeff Armstrong, a podiatrist with Charleston Bone and Joint