Today’s blogpost topic is Injuries: Prevention, Treatment and Recovery. I haven’t written about injuries in a long time and it is an important topic that many if not most of us will encounter at some point in our lives and athletic careers.
So what triggered this idea? A strange back injury which began about a week ago. That explains why my legs are elevated throughout this entire post. It seems that running with the dog causes some twisting that might have begun this. The give and take on the leash is frequently kind but sometimes Misty pulls too hard and that might have caused something. Or I took a misstep.
Why do back injuries happen? Sometimes it’s overtraining, overuse, twisting, sudden movements (starts and stops, like when Misty sees prey running or stops to hunt the prey). Running on concrete too much. I’ve written before about not running on roads: running on dirt/softer surfaces. Sometimes humidity can contribute to back injuries as well. Usually my heat cramps go directly to my calves. But now my calves are stronger and maybe it is actually my back that I need to work on with strength and flexibility.
How can we prevent injuries? Injury prevention is so important. Maybe we cannot prevent every injury but even preventing 80% or more of them is substantial. We need to have a systematic approach to workouts that includes cardio, strength, and flexibility. Workout and training routines should rotate hard (intense) workouts with easier (less intensity). How can we measure the intensity level? One easy way is through the heart rate monitor that either comes with your GPS watch or separate HRM strap. Another way is to watch VO2 max trends. For Garmin watches, there is a recovery advisor that assesses how long until you should run again in hours. Garmin watches also assess your condition (good,fair, poor, etc).
One important part of treating injuries is to diagnose the condition. For example, if my calves cramp up and it’s 90% or more humidity, I know exactly what the problem is. And I know I need to slow down, move the workout routine to a less intense level, move it inside, or switch to the pool or bike. Pool would be more relaxed as long as you aren’t swimming sprint laps.
With back injuries, it’s much more complicated. My back injury flared up in the lower right side of my back. So I immediately began taping it with KT Tape, icing it regularly, elevating my legs more (see medicine ball approach). You can also elevate your legs against a wall, in bed, or on a couch if that is more comfortable for you. I’ll leave an example below at the end of the post. More walk breaks became necessary. I had to shorten the running slivers, breaking up my runs into more segments. I also adjusted my runs with our dog to shorten them (40 lb. dog seems to pull with a lot of force if she wants to go a certain direction). I also added KT Tape recovery patches for inflammation and pain. I’m already taking Omega-3 daily to reduce inflammation but now I’ve doubled my dosage of Omega-3 to the maximum daily dose until I get this back pain controlled. Cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric, all anti-inflammatory spices, are part of my treatment. Careful to eat more anti-inflammatory foods to help too. Making rest a bigger priority than it has been. I’ve gotten so used to these 200 mile running Julys and this year that may not be possible.
If it worsens, I would definitely see a doctor but for now I am dealing with this myself as a health coach, running coach, and experienced runner. But fatigue is definitely part of this. My first VO2 max reading by my new watch was very low so I’m watching for asthma inflammation too.
It is wise to use these balance balls and resistance bands daily for flexibility and strength. Might hold back on lifting weights for a while at least anything that would stress my back. The balance balls and resistance bands are very helpful and gentler than the weights. Also, foam rolling is very important in treating an injury and speeding up recovery. There is an initial pain sometimes when you start using a foam roller but after a while the pain dissipates and relief is found.
Another possibility is to consider massage. I am considering that for my back but haven’t sought it yet. There are some deep-tissue forms of massage that seem to give people relief. I have friends and colleagues that are seeking relief from acupressure and acupuncture. That’s not for everyone.
But ice and heat can be helpful, probably ice is more helpful in summer. I’ve been using a new KT Tape recovery belt that allows me to wear an ice bag around my back with compression. It’s helping. 20 minutes of ice X 3-4X/day is a good regimen.
Finally, rest and days off or just finishing workouts early, finding an easier alternative are all possibilities as well. Sometimes even the most minor adjustments can make a big difference with speeding recovery. There is a way to treat almost every injury and work around it by making smart common-sense adjustments. This is where a coach is important in helping an athlete transition back on track.
Unfortunately, I feel my runstreak teetering a little due to my back on day 967 of the runstreak today. I don’t want to further aggravate this injury. So for now, I’m adding more walking: testing 3 minutes run with 2 minutes walk, 4:1, 5:1. Those ratios seem to work better for me now than the walking every mile that I used to do before this injury surfaced. My perceived fatigue level seems to be higher than expected. Part of that is from not getting adequate sleep on a nightly basis. Seem to wake up and have trouble falling back to sleep sometimes. My creative brain likes to awaken in the middle of the night unfortunately.
Part of dealing with injuries is just common sense, erring on the side of caution. If red flags appear or reasons for caution, just send up your internal caution flag for the day until you feel you are clear of the injury that has surfaced. Frequently, rest is best. And at some point it is likely my runstreak will end. I just thought it would be something more predictable like asthma or calf cramps that would threaten the runstreak and not a back injury that is rotating from the right side to the left and now causing pain/inflammation in my glutes. Maybe I need to do more squats.
It’s so easy to give up with injuries but it’s better to just implement a self-care regimen that will prevent most injuries in the first place. For those injuries that do occur, diagnose and treat them early and often with natural holistic solutions. See a doctor if needed. Be good to yourself: that means not overexerting when it’s time to rest, recover and recuperate. If we overexert, it’s tougher to reel in the second wind that we are all seeking: overexertion just pushes the second wind further away, sometimes days away.
What have been your most severe injuries and how have you dealt with them? For me, mine was probably plantar fasciitis. I’ll cover that in a later blogpost. Almost all injuries heal but they require us to take the time, effort, and to be patient and gentle to our bodies when we need to be.
A simple acronym to remember a lot of injury help is this: RICE (Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation). Compression for me I use primarily with my calves (calf sleeves or compression socks). If the humidity level is high when I run in summer, sometimes I just throw on the compression socks or sleeves as a precaution. They help.
Be good to yourself. Prevent injuries before they happen. Treat them when they do, get expert help from doctors and coaches for suggestions. Cross-training is helpful. Even switching to the pool in summer is a good idea for many of us who are injured. And take the time and steps needed to recover fully before going back to full-intensity workouts. If you feel like you are at half-strength, don’t train as if you are at full-strength or you will likely aggravate the injuries and make them worse.
Wishing you continued health, freedom from injuries, and a peaceful summer that hopefully includes a great deal of rest, relaxation, and a healthy amount of moderate exercise, Jeremy