Guest Contribution by Esther Atkins, Professional Runner and McKirdy Trained Coach in Greenville, SC
Last February, I lined up for my third Olympic Trials Marathon knowing my body was not at 100%. It was then I made a pledge to end the band aid fixes just so I could make it through a workout. I wanted to dedicate myself to a comprehensive recovery that would not only alleviate the pain, but also its source.
As a runner and a coach, I’ve learned a lot about the body through injuries. Coaching over 50 adult runners all over the country, not a day goes by that I don’t get hit with a question about a sudden pain or the next stage in recovery from an injury.
However, despite all my experience and training, I am not a licensed doctor or physical therapist, so I have come up with a system to decide when it’s time for my runners to find supplemental help. Remember, you are a product of your environment, so surround yourself with the best.
Want to add more accountability and structure to your training? Enlist a coach. Want to eliminate pain or come back from an injury? Call a musculoskeletal expert.
The best practitioners also know their scope, so as a coach, I am limited on how much I can help runners with nutrition, strength training, and injury rehab, to list a few areas. Past a certain level, it is my job to help my athletes find the expert they need!
The steps I typically take to help my runners through minor injuries:
- Foam Rolling – Make sure you are foam rolling and using other massage tools to loosen muscles around the area. Many tendon and joint issues are caused by tight muscles pulling on a tendon which can in turn cause pain in both the tendon and the joint. Also, of all the recovery tools out there, several studies have proven that foam rolling is the most effective method of assisting recovery.
- Dial it Back – The number one cause of injury is ramping up intensity (speed work) or volume (mileage) too quickly. So try eliminating speed work and/or reducing your mileage for a week if tempered running isn’t painful.
- Don’t Run Through Pain – This one can be tricky for tough runners because we often don’t even recognize an injury before it is already affecting our gate and causing us to limp ever so slightly when we run. Compensating for an injury almost always causes more injuries, so if you or a friend notices that you are limping, stop running and take 1-3 days off.
- Use a Substitute – You can mimic running by aqua jogging or utilizing an AlterG (anti-gravity) treadmill. Stationary biking, getting on an elliptical or simply going for a brisk walk are good too! (This step may work in tandem with both step No. 3 and step No. 5.)
- Call Physical Therapy – If you’ve tried the steps above and your symptoms are not improving, it’s time to talk to a physical therapist. In some states, including where I live in South Carolina, insurance will cover visits to your physical therapist for up to 30 days before requiring a referral from your primary doctor to continue coverage.
Society has trained us to call a doctor when pain appears, but most of our physicians are actually not trained in the musculoskeletal systems the same way physical therapists are – a PT’s entire training is focused on functional movement.
My experience with Doctors of Physical Therapy at CORA Physical Therapy has been far more helpful and productive than with most Orthopedists because orthopedic surgeons are trained primarily to intervene – with pain pills, shots, and surgery. Of course, sometimes these are necessary and even life-saving, but I have found physical therapy to be a better answer for repetitive use injuries and chronic injuries.
Physical Therapists are trained to find the source of the problem and help you reteach your body how to move so the same injury won’t come back. A good physical therapist will get to know you over the course of treatment and provide you with a toolbox of preventive and at-home treatment techniques. So, if or when the problem crops up again, you’ll know what to do on your own. However, if that doesn’t fix it, you have a super knowledgeable PT phone-a-friend to assist!
And just like a good coach who will refer you to additional help when needed, if your physical therapist believes imaging, medication, and/or surgery may be necessary, they will work with a physician to make sure you get all of the help you need!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CORA Physical Therapy or any other committee, group or individual.