Lacing up your running shoes and hitting the pavement or trails is one of the best parts of summer in Edmonton. No matter your pace or distance, running is a great way to keep physically active and can have substantial mental health benefits, as well. However, there are some common conditions that affect runners and can keep you sidelined if they aren’t treated appropriately:
1. Plantar fasciitis is the painful inflammation of a thick band of connective tissue (the plantar fascia) that runs across the bottom of your foot, connecting your heel bone to your toes like a bowstring, and supporting the arch of your foot and providing shock absorption when you run. People who do lots of running, have flat feet or abnormal foot mechanics, or who wear shoes with inadequate support are particularly susceptible to developing plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis typically causes a stabbing pain near your heel that is usually at its worst first thing in the morning and may decrease over the course of the day, but usually returns with long periods of standing or with running. Having tight muscles in your legs or poor joint mobility in your ankle can put added strain on the plantar fascia, so doing regular calf stretches and improving flexibility in your legs and feet can help relieve and even prevent plantar fasciitis.
2. Patellofemoral pain syndrome is a broad term to describe pain in and around your knee and kneecap and is more common in runners (which is why it’s sometimes called ‘runner’s knee’). The patellofemoral joint between your kneecap (or patella) and thigh bone (or femur) is complex and acts like a pulley system to move your lower leg. If the knee is overused and the kneecap becomes misaligned, it twists and torques the supporting tissues, causing pain and sometimes a rubbing, grinding, or clicking sensation when moving the knee joint. There are a few risk factors, like increasing the intensity or duration of your runs too quickly, muscle weakness or imbalances (especially in the hip or thigh muscles that stabilize the knee joint) and other improper biomechanics that result in the patella being misaligned during activity. Patellofemoral pain can usually be remedied with rest and temporarily modifying exercise to more low-impact activities.
3. ‘Shin splints’ has become kind of a catch-all term for pain in the lower leg, but it usually begins as a dull ache around the shin bone (or tibia). The repeated stress of excessive force on the shin bone and the muscles and tissues surrounding it causes pain, tenderness, and sometimes swelling in the lower leg. Shin splints are often an overuse injury that occurs when people either begin running again after a long break or increase the intensity or frequency of their runs too quickly. Other causes might be a change in running shoes (particularly those lacking proper arch support), running on a hard or uneven surface, improper biomechanics, or poor flexibility in the calf muscles. Rest, stretching your calves and hamstrings, running on softer surfaces, and ensuring your running shoes provide proper support can help prevent shin splints. It’s important to remember, though, that there are different types of shin pain and a proper assessment is critical to ensure something more serious, like a stress fracture, has not occurred.
4. Achilles tendonitis is a specific type of tendonitis that causes pain and swelling in the back of your heel, tight calf muscles, and limited range of motion when flexing your foot. The Achilles tendon is a thick piece of connective tissue that connects the heel bone to the calf muscles at the back of the lower leg and repetitive stress causes irritation, inflammation, and sometimes micro-tears in the tendon. Achilles tendonitis is primarily an overuse injury and commonly occurs in runners, particularly those who suddenly increase the intensity or duration of their runs or play other sports with quick stops and changes in direction. You can help prevent Achilles tendonitis by engaging in a proper warm-up before exercise, combining high- and low-impact activities into your exercise routine, wearing proper shoes with adequate support, and easing into new exercise routines or increasing the intensity of your current routines gradually. Stretching your calf muscles is particularly important in preventing Achilles tendonitis since the tighter your calf muscles are, the more stress and tension that is placed on the Achilles tendon.
Early recognition of these conditions is important since rest, stretching, and modifying your activities can help your body heal without more serious intervention. If you are experiencing any of these conditions, book an assessment with one of our experienced physiotherapists so that we can get you back on your feet.