In a runner, an “overuse injury” is one caused by repeatedly stressing the tissues of the feet and legs. Incorrect running form increases the risk of overuse injury. Overuse injury is more likely in a person who runs often, as this can result in inadequate rest.
Overuse injury is characterized by a pain, tingling, numbness, stiffness, or weakness in one leg or both. Restricted mobility and/or a clicking noise or sensation often accompanies movement. The muscles in the leg may be disproportionately sore and achy upon movement, and the affected part may be swollen.
A suspected overuse injury should be seen by a doctor. The doctor may restrict activity until the injury heals, and may also help correct any incorrect biomechanics that caused the injury. The intensity, extent, frequency, or type of activity may also require adjustment. If the doctor prescribes an extended layoff from the activity that led to the injury, there should be a follow-up appointment before resuming the exercise, to ensure the injury has healed.
Rest is vital for overuse injuries to heal. Ice packs may be applied to the injured area for 20 minutes several times in a day. Ice packs may also be applied immediately after exercising. Physiotherapy may be required; especially strength training and stretching exercises. Ultrasound treatments provide deep heat to the tissues, facilitating tissue healing and contributing to pain relief.
Anti-inflammatory agents such as ibuprofen or aspirin may be taken. However, prolonged use of these medicines should be avoided, to prevent damage to the stomach lining and to the kidneys.
Injections of steroids may be administered for severe pain and inflammation. If spasms are a problem a doctor may recommend muscle relaxants. Electrical stimulation of the nerves in the affected leg may be required to stimulate muscle activity. Correcting any problems with form that may have led to the injury is also an important part of treatment.
Orthotics are physical aids that help to correct the alignment of the foot and leg with the rest of the body while running to balance each stride. It smoothes the muscle actions and propulsion of each step while helping with shock absorption. Orthotics do not add speed to running, they improve the quality of each stride.
Exercises to improve strength and flexibility are frequently part of treatment.
Stretching exercises improve flexibility, and help muscles recover after exercise. A doctor or physical therapist can provide some basic stretches, as well as some stretches specifically targeted to prevent recurrence of your specific injury. A personal trainer or coach at your local gym may also be able to suggest specific exercises.
Strengthening exercises improve muscle strength and endurance. These include some simple exercises, like knee lifting. While sitting on a chair, lift each leg off the chair ten or fifteen times while keeping the knee bent at 90 degrees.
Another simple exercise is a leg extension, in which, while sitting in a chair, the leg is repeatedly extended from the knee to a straight position.
Free squats and leg presses are other excellent ways to train the leg muscles, as is resistance training. Resistance training includes increasing the incline on the treadmill, adding resistance when cycling, or wearing ankle weights when running.
Overuse injuries can be prevented by avoiding running with improper posture and mechanics, and by increasing speed and distance gradually, no more than 10 percent per week. Running more than 45 miles per week should be avoided as it increases the risk of injury. Uneven and rigid surfaces should be avoided. Applying ice packs to the aching feet or legs after exercising may provide some relief.
An intermittent plan of easy and hard schedule should be adopted to prevent undue prolonged stress. To ensure equipment remains in peak condition, running shoes should be changed every 500 miles.
Running is fun if done in moderation. Set realistic goals, and enjoy every mile.