Running Injuries: Becoming Your Own Best Detective
Discomfort and pain are your body's ways of telling you that something in your body is not moving correctly. Whether or not you remain in pain is, most times, up to you. It might sound funny, but pain is a good thing … at least when it can forewarn you of potential damage. I suggest you practice becoming a great detective when dealing with aches and pains in your running and walking. It could save you lots of time at the physical therapist.
There are a couple of ways to deal with pain. One is the widely accepted (but not recommended by us) use of pain-killers to mask the pain. Painkillers help to get rid of the symptom, but almost never address the reason for the pain. An alternative way to deal with pain is to listen carefully to your body and try to decipher what you could be doing that is causing the pain to occur. It is always best to make sure you're actually looking beyond the symptom for the true source of the problem. Whenever you feel any discomfort or pain, you should ask yourself "Why am I feeling this?" and begin the process of finding how to get to the bottom of the problem so you can change the cause and prevent the pain from developing into a full-on injury.
Pain can be caused by many different reasons, but some of the main ones are:
- Lack of movement – an area that is stiff and tight and does not move enough can cause pain. Most people don’t rotate their hips enough and their spine does not twist as it should. Gentle movement and increasing your range of motion carefully is important.
- Improper movement – where you are not moving correctly. This would include creating too much impact from heel striking, reaching too far forward with your stride, pushing off with your feet at the end of your stride, or having too great a range of motion than your body is supposed to handle.
- Overuse – where any area of your body is doing more work than it can or should. Overuse can come from pushing your body when it does not have the conditioning it needs. It can also come from muscles trying to compensate for poor posture, or legs trying to do the work that the pelvis should be doing. Overuse is not just too much repetitive movement. If well conditioned and done correctly, a person can run a long distance without pain or injury.
Lack of movement and improper movement are often the cause of overuse in another part of your body. If your hips are too stiff, then your legs have to overwork. If your posture is not aligned, then your muscles have to work to keep you standing, if you land on the back of your heel, then your knee takes the brunt of the impact.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself, that could lead you to some valuable answers:
- Is the pain coming from a muscle or a joint?
- Is the pain coming from a ligament or tendon?
- Is it only happen upon impact with the ground?
- Is it only on one side of my body?
- Is it general pain or is it specifically located?
- Does it only happen at the first of my workout or does it take awhile to come on?
- Does it go away with movement? Which movement helps it go away?
- Are there any things I notice in my movement that are asymmetrical (left side/right side)? Which side seems (or feels) to be moving more correctly?
Here's an example. Last week I felt some pain in my right knee. My first response was to feel around my knee for any sore spots. I found a tender spot on the medial side of the knee which felt like an inflamed tendon. Rather than go straight for the ibuprofen, I asked myself, "Why?" I first looked at my foot strike, knowing that most knee pain comes from impact. When I listened to my foot striking the ground I could feel a slight braking and a scuffing sound on the pavement. Again I asked, "Why?" When I looked down, I noticed that my right foot was swinging forward slightly more than my left. This would account for the braking feeling and would also account for why my left knee was not in any pain. My left foot was landing (correctly) slightly behind my hips, while my right foot was landing in front of my hips (incorrectly) producing a braking action which was causing the knee pain.
Then, I asked myself, "Why is my right foot swinging too far forward?" What I discovered from asking this question is that my left hip was not swinging to the rear as my left leg extended out behind my body after the support phase of my stride. Pelvic rotation is what allows your stride to open up behind you as you run. In Chi Running classes I emphasize the importance of letting your hip go back with your leg each time it swings out behind you. This allows your pelvis to rotate and allows your foot to land more underneath your body than in front of your body. When your left leg is allowed to swing fully out behind you it keeps your right leg from swinging too far forward (which will indeed create a heel strike).
To get my left hip to open up and swing more fully to the rear I went to my local track and ran clockwise, which forced my left side to swing bigger on the curves. This had an immediate influence on reducing my knee pain.
Another thing I realized in my detective work was that I was sleeping predominantly on my right side which rotated my pelvis clockwise as I slept, and forced my left hip forward. This was extending my right hip flexor while at the same time, shortening my left hip flexor and contributing to the asymmetry between the two legs.
For a week now I've been opening up my left hip more, increasing my pelvic rotation on my left side, and sleeping on my left side … and the pain is gone. I don't know if any one thing I'm doing is keeping the pain at bay, but I'm happy to do all three things just to insure it doesn't come back. Something's working and that shows me that the detective work pays off.
By asking yourself the right questions and Body Sensing for any answers that might come up, you'll be able to trace your ache or pain back to its origin and make the correction where it counts the most.
As you learn and practice the Chi Running focuses, you’ll get better and better at being an injury-prevention detective. At first you may need a Certified Chi Running Instructor to help you out. It’s a good idea to have other good health practitioners help you keep your body in alignment as well. As your running form improves, and as your detective work improves, you’ll find that good running form is the best way to prevent injury.