Your body is one of the best machines ever designed, however, like all machines, it occasionally breaks down. Sometimes, these breakdowns just happen and there is very little that anyone can do about it, perhaps because of a genetic issue. But most frequently, the breakdown occurs because of overuse or poor maintenance. That’s especially true in swimming, cycling, running, and other non-contact sports.
The purpose of this article is not to blame you for your own leg injuries. Rather, this article is designed to empower you to overcome these wounds. Hopefully, this article also spurs you into action, because the time to worry about an injury is before something hurts and not afterward.
Patello-femoral Pain Syndrome, or “runner’s knee,” is one of the most common overuse injuries. Certain people are more prone to PFPS, mostly because the patella (kneecap) is larger on the outside than on the inside or the patella does not fit precisely into the femoral groove (part of the femur, or leg bone). Since women have wider hips than men, they demonstrate more of these anatomical abnormalities and thus have a much higher incidence of PFPS.
Run on soft surfaces, like a jogging track,
Do not increase mileage by more than 10 percent a week, especially if your route is at all hilly,
Shorten your stride, particularly when running uphill or downhill, and
Avoid knee-bending activities, such as prolonged sitting.
If PFPS occurs anyway, reduce your mileage straightaway until the pain goes away. If the discomfort persists, visit your doctor to rule out any more serious conditions.
Like PFPS, a stress fracture is also a mechanical/overuse injury. Whereas trauma causes most regular fractures, repetitive stress causes hairline bone fractures. These wounds normally do not require surgical correction, but they are incredibly painful and if not treated properly, the weakened bones are susceptible to further injury.
Simply stated, stress fractures get better with rest and worse with activity, so never try to run through the pain or even cross-train until the pain goes away. Moreover, reduce your daily activity until the discomfort substantially subsides. Once the pain is completely gone, the stress fracture is usually completely gone as well.
This condition is usually a “too much too soon” injury; shin splints also often occur after sudden extreme variances in your workout routine. People with flat feet or fallen arches are also susceptible to shin splints because their shins must work extra hard. Inflammation and micro-tears in the muscles that line the shin bones cause this injury, so the pain is much more generalized than with stress fractures.
When you feel this discomfort, stop running completely, or at least drastically reduce your mileage. Use ice to decrease the inflammation, and use stretches to tone the leg muscles and reduce stress on the shin.
The first three injuries are quite easy to handle, but muscle pulls are another matter. Overstretching or overexertion usually causes these injuries, so other than taking care to avoid such activities, muscle pulls are difficult to prevent. These injuries are usually easy to identify. Because the blood vessels often break, muscle pulls usually come with bruising or some slight bleeding.
If you see these symptoms, stop all running activity and use the RICE method to address the injury:
Do not ice the area for more than about twenty minutes at a time, and do not constantly elevate the injured area so the blood will keep flowing.
Of all these common leg injuries, this repetitive stress injury is probably the most serious one; additionally, bone spurs (small bone outgrowths) in the heel sometimes rub against the tendon. Inflamed tissues often rupture, and such an injury requires surgical correction. The RICE method usually works, but you’ll need to take it up a notch.
Rest: Stay off the ankle completely until it feels just like the uninjured ankle. If you must move around, use crutches for leg injuries.
Ice: Instead of just grabbing a few ice cubes from the freezer, consider using a specially designed ice wrap that puts more cold sensation right on the inflamed area. That way, you can tolerate more icing sessions per day.
Compression: Use KT tape or an Ace bandage to reduce inflammation, since inflammation is at the heart of this injury and it will not get better until such inflammation goes down.
Elevation: Keep the area constantly elevated, and massage the tendon gently to promote blood flow.
Fitness injuries are almost inevitable, so know how to respond when they occur, and life will be much better.