If you’ve been running for any length of time, chances are that you’ve suffered from some sort of running injury. Running injuries are different from injuries from other sports in that they usually come about gradually, rather than the result of blunt trauma. Due to the chronic nature of these injuries, the cause is often (incorrectly) attributed to overuse or “old age”. Here are a few common problems runners deal with and some preventative measures.
How To Prevent Plantar Fasciitis
Commonly known as heel spurs or runner’s heel, plantar fasciitis is a stubbornly painful condition that can keep you on the couch. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the tendon on the bottom of the foot connecting the heel and toes (the plantar fascia) becomes inflamed. One probable cause of plantar fasciitis is continual pounding of the heel while running. Runners who heel strike in this way are much more likely to suffer from this stubborn and sharp pain. Also, heavier runners are especially susceptible to this condition, as there is simply more physical force and pressure on the plantar fascia tendon.
Plantar Fasciitis- Heel Spurs Treatment
When you go to your doctor for help with plantar fasciitis, it’s likely that he or she will recommend that you rest and avoid running until pain subsides. This surely isn’t bad advice, and not running will almost certainly help. The problem is, if you’re not running or doing some sort of physical activity on your feet, you’re not staying in shape. Running is something that many people enjoy, and simply stopping is an undesirable treatment.
Other typical treatments include anti-inflammatory medication, costly surgery, or expensive orthotics. The problem with orthotics and extra-cushioned shoes is that they simply do not solve the problem. To borrow an analogy from Christopher McDougall in Born to Run, using pricey shock-absorbing footwear to lessen heel impact is like covering an egg with a paper towel and expecting it to lessen the impact of a hammer.
Instead of treating the symptoms, you should treat the cause. In the case of plantar fasciitis, the cause is almost always excessive force on the heel. How can you lessen heel impact without decreasing running mileage? Simple: learn running technique. One method in particular, Pose Running, has been shown to significantly lower total force on the heel while running. Essentially, Pose technique involves shortening one’s stride and striking the ground on the balls of the feet, rather than the heel. In doing so, the heel is subject to far less trauma, and plantar fasciitis is likely kept at bay. If you’re sick of heel spurs and want to keep running, take a look at our Pose Running page and give the technique a try.
How To Treat Achilles Tendinitis
Achilles tendinitis is the excruciatingly painful inflammation of the Achilles tendon. To be clear, the Achilles tendon runs along the back of the leg and serves to connect the heel to the other muscles of the leg. The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body. Like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis is often attributed to overuse or repeated intense physical activity.
While this is partly true, another factor may contribute to this painful condition: weak calf muscles. Calf muscles support the Achilles tendon. If your calf muscles are weak, the Achilles tendon is burdened with more pressure and tension. This can result in the tendon being overworked, which subsequently results in Achilles tendinitis and possibly sprains or tears.
Achilles Tendinitis Prevention
A potential solution to Achilles tendonitis is to strengthen the calf muscles. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including exercises such as calf raises, weighted calf raises, and even squats. Another way to strengthen the calf muscles is to adopt a running style that makes greater use of the calves. Minimalist running techniques (Pose, Chi Running, etc.) emphasize a midfoot landing over a heel strike, and thus engage the calf and soleus muscles more effectively. By gradually transitioning to barefoot running methods, you’ll build calf muscle strength and thereby enhance Achilles tendon support.
It’s important to note that learning barefoot running technique is a gradual process, and you’ll have to decrease your mileage when acclimating. Make sure that you learn proper form. It’s not a bad idea to find a certified running coach (find one here) that will be able to critique your individual gait and give you specific advice. If you attempt to learn a new running technique haphazardly, you are only setting yourself up for injuries and other problems in the future.
Barefoot running techniques focus on efficiency and injury-prevention. Although using methods such as Pose Running can’t absolutely guarantee an injury-free running career, these techniques have been shown to lessen the likelihood that you’ll hurt yourself and end up on the couch. As with engaging in any new form of physical activity, be sure you speak with a health professional before making the plunge.
To learn about Pose Running, check out our guide.
For minimalist running shoe recommendations, check out our reviews.