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How to manage injuries and get back on the road

How to manage injuries and get back on the road

Steve Manning, intraining podiatrist, coach, runner and QUT podiatry lecturer

From the outside, running seems like a simple sport to participate in. But it can be a high-risk activity for injury. The musculoskeletal system undergoes many changes as it adapts to the stress of running. When you first start running, or any time you significantly increase the training load, it takes six to 10 weeks before it feels easier and injury risk is reduced.

Making it through this time is very challenging, especially for new runners, and many will give up before they complete this stage. Niggles are a part of the running experience—what’s important is that they do not progress into an injury.

The lifecycle of an injury

Recognising the early signs of an injury and seeking help quickly can greatly reduce the time off from training. When you see a sports medicine professional, your initial appointment should not only include treating the symptoms, but making a diagnosis, identifying the cause and creating a plan to return to training.  

1. Treat the symptoms

Symptomatic treatment such as rest, ice, anti-inflammatory gels and tablets, compression and elevation can reduce the pain but more importantly may cure an injury before it becomes chronic. Trying to treat the symptoms alone will rarely be adequate to prevent the injury from recurring.

2. Make a diagnosis

Looking at the symptoms can often lead you to an accurate diagnosis of an injury. To do this you need a structural and biomechanical assessment, a gait analysis and palpation of the area to reproduce pain. In most cases this will establish the tissue that is affected and a diagnosis of the injury can be made. However, in some cases further investigations are required, such as an MRI, ultrasound or X-ray. It is critical that an accurate diagnosis is made because different treatment regimens will work with different injured tissue.

3. Identify the causesCalfInjury

Why did this injury occur? The most significant factor in resolving an injury and stopping it coming back is to identify what factors caused it in the first place. Many injuries have different and sometimes opposite causes. For example, the iliotibial band (ITB—the strong band of thick tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh) can become irritated both by pronation (rolling in) and by supination (rolling out). This can only be determined with an understanding of how you run, what your training may have been doing leading up to the injury, the wear and tear of your footwear, and if there was a specific moment of trauma (e.g. rolling an ankle).

4. The importance of rehabilitation

There is no such thing as a ‘quick fix’ for injuries—every runner’s injury need to be evaluated based on their own specific structure and function. The sports medicine professional you see should be able to give you the most likely diagnosis of your injury, the factors that caused the injury, the likely prognosis or how long it will take to resolve the injury, and a back up plan if the injury does not resolve as predicted.

There is an order of treatment that should be followed, from the least complicated and least expensive plan through to more difficult and expensive options. Jumping into orthotics or surgery before addressing factors like training, footwear and running form is rarely appropriate.

Most importantly, you should always leave an appointment with a clear understanding of how to deal with and manage your injury, and prevent it from recurring.

Do you have an injury?

It’s crucial not to let niggles turn into something more serious. Book an appointment with one of the intraining Running Injury Clinic’s expert podiatrists or physiotherapists. We’re experienced runners who specialise in running and sporting injuries—we’re here to help get you back on the road and running pain free.

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