Learn to Spot an Overuse Injury

Coach Paul Greer of the San Diego Track Club has been helping runners train for the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & 1/2 for 20 years running! In this series, we’ll feature tips, workouts and programs, courtesy of Coach, that will help you conquer your first or 100th marathon!

There are many activities that stress repetitive movements such as aerobics, cycling, swimming and running. Unfortunately, these types of fitness pursuits tend to cause overuse injuries. There are many reasons why you can develop such an injury. Outlined below are some reasons why an overuse injury occurs.

Inadequate conditioning: When you increase your workload before you are ready to progress you can overstress your body.

Improper technique: Some runners seem to float along in a natural way while others run awkwardly. If you are the latter learn proper form and technique.

Generic configuration of your body: The way you are built will affect your athletic performance. For example, if you are knock-kneed with wide hips and you take up running, you could develop problems in your knees.

Improper equipment: The way your shoes fit can set you up for overuse injury. This includes shoes that are lacking adequate cushioning or arch and heel support.

Type of exercise: Running is more likely to cause an overuse injury of the lower extremities and the back than other sports. In contrast, tennis players are likely to have more shoulder and elbow pain.

The primary goal of every runner should be to remain injury-free. Running goals and times cannot be achieved without consistent training. Consistent training cannot be maintained without getting healthy and staying healthy. Optimize your health instead of minimizing your symptoms and you will run injury-free for years to come.

Common Overuse Injuries

Almost any muscle, bone, tendon or joint in your body can become inflamed if you use it improperly and too often. Provided below is a list of some of the more common overuse running injuries:

Shin splints are a broad term for pain that shows up in the front part of the lower leg. The muscles that flex your ankles become sore from overuse and may tear away slightly from the bone. This condition most often results from a combination of weak shin muscles and doing too much too quickly in a running program. Other factors may contribute, including too tight Achilles tendons, running on a hard surface or inadequate cushioning in the shoes.

Shinbone pain on the inner border of the bone, just above the ankle, is usually caused by stretching of the posterior tibial muscle. To prevent this overuse injury or to rectify it early, use shoe inserts that provide extra arch support. You can also do heel raises and other exercises that will strengthen the posterior tibial muscle.

Compartment syndrome is a condition caused by inflammation of the muscles on the front or the outside of the shin. The muscles swell and put pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the foot and ankle. This condition must be treated immediately.

Stress fractures are tiny, painful cracks that come from repeated stress on bones. They occur in the lower leg, foot and hip with runners. Stress fractures are often difficult to diagnose and bone scans or other X-ray studies may be necessary. In fact my experience has shown that stress fractures may not show up on the X-ray until 3 weeks after experiencing this condition. Rest from running will allow the fracture to heal itself. With this condition you can substitute another exercise that doesn’t put stress on that particular bone.

Achilles tendinitis starts with pain just an inch or two above the heel bone. This is another condition that is best treated by substituting a different exercise, although sometimes a heel lift in your shoe can help, as it keeps the tendon from stretching too far.

Bursitis is inflammation of a fluid-filled sac that serves to lubricate areas where the bones and tendons rub together. It is brought about by constant, repetitive motion. Runners are prone to bursitis of the knees and hips.

Knowledge is power. The more you are aware of the common types of injuries, the better chance you will prevent them from occurring.

About Coach Paul Greer

Coach Paul Greer is Professor in Health and Exercise Science at San Diego City College and has a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science and 32 years coaching experience. Greer ran the mile in under four minutes (3:59.79) and was a 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier at 1500 meters with a 3:39.05. In addition to teaching at San Diego City, Greer also coaches for the San Diego Track Club; the largest running club in San Diego. He works with over 500 runners and is the Director for the Rockin N Runnin full and half marathon training program preparing athletes every year for San Diego’s Rock N Roll marathon/half marathon in June. Greer’s workouts cater for runners of all ages and abilities and he provides training schedules to his athletes on an individual basis.

Coach Paul Greer was featured in The Game Changer, the debut episode of Milestones, a video series that celebrates and commemorate the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series history.