Running Injuries: Become Your Own Injury Prevention Detective
It may sound funny, but running pain can be a good thing, at least when it forewarns us of potential damage. Experiencing moderate pain while running is how the body tells us that something isn’t moving correctly. Whether or not we remain in pain is, oftentimes, up to us.
There are two ways to deal with exercise-induced pain. One is the widely accepted (but not recommended by us) use of painkillers to mask it. Painkillers help get rid of the symptom but almost never address the cause. An alternative way to deal with running pain is to listen carefully to your body to decipher what you could be doing that is causing pain to occur. ChiRunning teaches the invaluable skill of “Body Sensing” – or, creating clear communication between mind and body. When mind and body listen and respond to each other effectively, we can accurately evaluate running pain and make beneficial changes to our pain-free running technique that will last a lifetime.
Common causes of running pain:
- Lack of movement – An area that is stiff, tense or does not move enough can cause running pain. Gentle movement and increasing your range of motion carefully is important.
- Improper movement – This includes creating too much impact from heel striking (rather than the preferrable midfoot strike), reaching too far forward with your stride, pushing off with your feet at the end of your stride, or asking certain parts of the body to do more work than they are designed to do.
- Overuse – Overuse is not only caused by too much repetitive movement. Lack of movement and improper movement are often the cause of overuse in other parts of the body. If your hips are too stiff, your legs have to overwork; if your running posture is not aligned, your muscles have to work to keep you standing; if you heel strike instead of midfoot strike, your knees absorb the brunt of the impact.
When you first feel pain, stop and ask yourself:
- Is the pain coming from a muscle or joint?
- Is the pain coming from a ligament or tendon?
- Does it only occur upon impact with the ground?
- Is it only on one side of my body?
- Is it general running pain or is it specifically located?
- Does it only happen at the beginning of my workout or does it take a while to come on?
- Does it go away with movement? What movement helps it go away?
- Are any aspects of my movement asymmetrical? Which side seems (or feels) to be moving more correctly?
Here's an example. Last week while running, I felt pain in my right knee. First, I felt around my knee for soreness and found a tender spot on the medial side which felt like an inflamed tendon. Rather than go straight for the ibuprofen, I asked myself, “Why?” I looked at my foot strike, knowing that most knee pain comes from impact. I could feel a slight “braking,” and I heard a scuffing sound on the pavement. When I looked down, I noticed that my left foot was landing slightly behind my hips, while my right foot was landing in front of my hips, causing me to heel strike.
Next, I asked myself, “Why is my right foot swinging too far forward?” I checked in with the opposite side of my body and discovered my left hip was not swinging to the rear as my left leg extended out behind my body. My pelvis wasn’t fully rotating. As ChiRunning teaches, pelvic rotation allows your feet to land underneath your center of mass rather than out in front of your body. When your feet land underneath you, you easily land with a midfoot strike instead of heel striking.
To get my left hip to open up and swing more fully to the rear, I went to my local track and began running clockwise, which forced my left side to swing bigger on the curves. This had an immediate influence on reducing my knee pain. For a week now I've been increasing my pelvic rotation on my left side while monitoring my foot strike, and the pain is gone. I could have accepted knee pain as an inevitable side effect of running and popped a pill to feel better for a few hours. Instead, I’ve been able to achieve relief and prevent long-term damage simply through Body Sensing.
By asking your body the right questions and truly listening to the answers, you'll be able to trace your ache or pain back to its origin and make the correction where it counts the most.