GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Three physical therapists from Kessler Rehabilitation Center visited the Glen Ridge Public Library on March 7 to discuss running injuries and how to prevent them. The number of possible aches and pains was considerable, and therapists Kavita Patel, Lauren Polis and Bridget Greenwald were kept busy speaking for an hour. Although just a handful of people attended, at the end of the presentation, every listener may have figured injuries were so common that, before committing to your first step, prevention was key. That seemed to be one point the therapists wanted to make.
The talk began with a simple question that runners should ask themselves: What does it mean to be a better runner and how do I become one? The speakers emphasized that being at least a good runner often means knowing that a pain in one part of your body is often caused by another part altogether. Anatomical illustrations of injuries were projected.
The audience was told that the knee is an area of dynamic movement and injuries to it account for 22 percent of the patients seeking therapy, but the injury is often caused by weak hip muscles, which cause the foot to move inside as a runner strides. If the runner does not land properly on the foot, pain will develop on the side of the leg along the iliotibial band. When this happens, the runner has IT band syndrome.
The speakers explained that sedentary or older people are often the victims of hamstring strains. At issue here is inflexibility or previous injuries resurfacing. Someone in the audience asked for a definition of an injury and the answer was a tear in the tissue.
Another injury was patellofemoral pain syndrome, or PFDS. Twenty-two of every 1,000 runners have this problem and women are the victims twice as often, explained the physical therapists. It is a misalignment of the knee cap. But again, the problem did not start there, it only ended there. The problem, the audience learned, is caused by a misalignment of the hip. Strengthening hip muscles will prevent PFDS; in fact, it will prevent many running injuries.
Shin splints were something every runner knew about, the audience was told, and clinically they are known as medial tibial stress syndrome, or MTSS. They are an inflammation often caused by changing the running surface, increasing the running distance or overstriding. Women are more often at risk.
Plantar fasciitis is a pain in the bottom of the heel and is often caused when a runner lands on his or her heels, said the physical therapists. The pain is felt the first thing in the morning while walking away from bed.
Stress often fractures often in the shin bone or toward the outside of the foot. This injury is attributed to increasing running distance or speed. An X-ray is required to determine whether there is a stress fracture.
Running patterns, or on what part of the foot a runner lands, were discussed. The speakers explained that there are three patterns. First is the heel strike; as it sounds, the runner lands on the heel. This is not an ideal area to land time and time again. The second pattern is the mid-foot strike. This pattern helps to distribute body weight along the foot. The third is the fore-foot strike. This is when the runner lands on his or her toes. This pattern protects the joints of the leg when landing but puts a strain on the Achilles tendon and calf muscles. The most efficient method was deemed the mid-foot pattern.
The physical therapists then explained that preventing injuries included training on level ground; warming up by stretching and doing one-leg balances; squatting slightly and taking side steps to strengthen muscles to keep the hips from dropping when running and making feet turn, in causing knee problems; and eccentric step downs, which is lowering the heel below the toes. The audience was warned that walkers sustain the same injuries as runners and it was important to monitor symptoms.
If someone was already running and wanted to increase the distance, the physical therapists cautioned that it should be increased by less than 50 percent. Also, it was recommended not to increase the distance and the speed at the same time. It is better and safer to increase one at a time.
It was recommended to stretch before running, but also to stretch after running. In addition, do hip extensions, by getting on hands and knees and doing “donkey kicks.” This is lifting the leg backward and up.
If injured, a runner or walker should discuss it with a trainer. If the pain persists, the physical therapists suggested seeing a physical therapist or an orthopedic specialist. Finally, they stressed that prevention also includes proper nourishment and not overdoing anything. And if fatigued sets in, rest.
For more information, contact: kessler-pt.com.