Dealing with a running injury

What to do in the event of sustaining an injury

It's a fact of life for runners that they do sustain injuries, and that these are often caused by a slip or a fall rather than other factors. So what do you do when you are out running and that patch of ice or pot hole causes you a running injury. Here's the guide to running injuries and how best to deal with them.

If you slip during a run, then depending on the direction in which you slip, this may injure a different part of the body. If the foot slips forward, this may injure the hamstring; if your foot slips sideway then your groin may end up damaged; or if your foot twists, then the ankle or knee could end up damaged.

The affect of such an unexpected movement is that it jerks the tissues suddenly, which injures the muscle fibers that were working at the time. It also pulls the ends of the muscles hard where they attach to the bone, damaging the tendons at these points.

Tendons are tough fibrous tissues that join muscle to bone. Some, or all, of the fibers may be broken after a trauma. Ligaments that hold the bones together may also be damaged.

In the case of the ankle, during the fall or slip the foot usually bends inwards and the damage is mainly to the outside of the ankle; to the supporting ligaments and muscles that usually prevent this action. These muscles are nowhere near as strong as the calf muscles that propel us along on a run and they may be seriously damaged by such a fall or slip.

Action to take immediately after an injury

As soon as you are able, put arnica lotion on the injury and take arnica tablets. These minimize the damage, especially if you are quick enough to put the lotion on before the area begins to swell. (It might even be worth carrying a few tablets and a small bottle of lotion in your pocket while you run.)

Traditional advice suggests icing the injury immediately to reduce swelling and pain, with this being repeated for 10 minutes every two hours. Some views suggest that icing the injury for longer than 24 hours can slow down the body's healing process due to the cold. Ice does reduce the initial swelling, after which the injured area needs to be raised to help prevent swelling further.

Further action to take following an injury

Try to keep any weight off the injured legs and, if possible, rest for 24 hours. Use crutches or a walking stick if necessary, and keep the leg elevated as much as possible.

You should seek medical advice if the pain does not lessen after 24 hours of rest. Things to look out for include: the ankle turning very dark purple; a bunching of muscle in a lump in the hamstrings; or the pain being next to the bone rather than in the center of the muscle.

Keep taking the arnica tablets — once an hour on the first day, slowly reduced to three times a day from about day three — and keep applying the arnica cream which acts as an anti-inflammatory. Try to move the injured joint as much as possible, but not if the pain is unbearable.

Some gentle massage — stroking the damaged area in the direction of your heart — will help, but do it very light to begin with. If ther damaged areas is too sore to massage, then massage from above the painful area, again towards the heart. Begin to stretch the injury as soon as the pain has subsided enough to allow you to do so.

Around three days following the injury, go for some remedial massage treatment. This will help remove the damaged cells and encourage the blood and lymph flow. Sports massage will ensure that all areas of damage are discovered and dealt with to prevent build-up of injured tissue and repeat injuries at the same site.

Getting back to running

When you are ready to begin running again, make sure you wear a support bandage for the first few running outings. It is important not to continue to wear the support for too long though, as you need to allow the muscles to strengthen freely.

Suggestions of exercises and stretches for runners

 For the ankles:

  • Circle your ankle each way 10 times, several times a day.
  • Stretching forward, back and side to side, several times a day.
  • Raises on a step: stand with heels over the edge of step, slowly raise and then lower your body weight to below the edge of the step, repeat 5 up to 10 times.
  • Swimming

For the hamstrings:

  • Touching your toes, hold for five seconds three times.
  • Seated toe touch: pulling toes back towards you, same as above.

It is important to stretch well before you go out to run, but only do so once the muscles are sufficiently warmed up. Immediately after a run is the optimum time to get the maximum benefit out of doing some post-run stretches.

If you do suffer any injuries or niggles during training, it's always a wise move to seek personal and professional attention.

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