Research suggests that anywhere from 20–80% of runners end up injured each year. This number is of course lower for walkers as a result of the reduced impact forces, but even still, pavement pounders of every ilk deal with a whole host of nagging issues, from knee pain to plantar fasciitis.
These types of injuries are often related to training errors, biomechanical or gait issues, strength and flexibility imbalances, and improper or worn-out footwear. The good news is that none of these problems are without solutions. In fact, if they are addressed early on, many of the most common injuries can be prevented from occurring in the first place.
There have even been studies done to pinpoint specific risk factors in hopes of helping runners and walkers head off problems before they arise. For instance, one study that looked at 930 new runners found the oldest participants (ages 45–65) were more likely to sustain an injury. Those who had a BMI greater than 30 also had a higher injury rate, as did those who had a past nonrunning-related injury. What’s more, they even found that runners with a type B personality (as opposed to type A), defined as “relaxed, laid-back,” experienced more running injuries.
If you fall into any of these categories, it can be useful to know that you may need to be more vigilant when it comes to injury prevention. Understanding the signs and symptoms of common running and walking ailments, as well as how to respond, will also help you skirt major issues that can leave you on the bench. In the vast majority of cases, arming yourself with some basic injury information and listening to your body will keep you up and running or walking all season (or year) long.
For all runners and walkers, it is important to intuit the difference between harmless soreness and pain associated with an injury. If you’re entering into a new training program after a period of inactivity, you’re likely to experience a few aches as your body adjusts. If, however, you experience sharp or intense pain anywhere, you should respond immediately. This is your body signaling something is going haywire.
If it’s just run-of-the-mill soreness, proceed with your training as planned. Delayed onset muscle soreness can rear its ugly head a couple of days after an activity, so it may take a week or so before you’re feeling fresh again. Fortunately, soreness doesn’t signal anything catastrophic and will resolve on its own.
For more serious injuries, your first move should be to pull back the reins on your running or walking program so you can assess the situation. Catching an injury in the early stages and responding appropriately can mean the difference between a couple days off and a couple months off.
If you identify what you think might be a developing injury early on, here are a few things to try at home:
1. Decrease mileage.
Since overtraining is one of the leading causes of running and walking injuries, adjusting your training is the first thing you should do when responding to a suspect pain. Depending on the injury, this may mean ceasing running or walking completely, or simply reducing the time on your feet each week. If the issue resolves itself in a couple of days, be conservative about bumping up your mileage again.
If your knee hurts, for instance, try swapping some of your walking or running mileage for time biking or swimming. Choosing a low-impact aerobic activity will allow you to keep building cardiovascular fitness without all the pounding on your bones, joints and muscles.
3. Apply ice.
Icing helps to reduce inflammation. Draw yourself up an ice bath, grab a bag of frozen peas, or freeze paper cups full of water and apply it to the source of the pain for 10 minutes 2–3 times per day.
4. Try self-massage.
Foam rollers and massage sticks are a great way to work out many common soft-tissue problems before they develop into full-blown injuries. When caught early, injuries such as IT band syndrome can often be addressed simply by foam rolling a few minutes each day.
If the at-home strategies have failed you or if you are experiencing intense or persistent pain, you should schedule an appointment with a specialist. The question is, which doctor should you see? Here is a run-down of some of the best docs to turn to for running and walking injuries:
Sports Medicine Physician: If you’re stumped on where to turn for an injury, sports medicine doctors are a good place to start. Not only can they diagnose a wide range of running or walking issues, but they also work closely with physical therapists and athletic trainers who can help devise a rehab plan and get you on the road to recovery.
Podiatrist: For injuries that affect the knee on down to the foot, a podiatrist may be your best bet. Specializing in foot issues, they treat everything from plantar fasciitis to Achilles tendinitis. They can also assist with creating custom-made orthotics, which can help runners and walkers avoid injuries up the entire kinetic chain.
Chiropractor: Many active people swear by their chiropractors to keep their bodies in optimal alignment. Not only can a chiropractor assist in addressing a whole host of bone and soft tissue injuries, but they also serve as a good option for regular maintenance work. In addition to adjustments, they can employ soft-tissue therapies like Active Release Technique and Graston.
Sports massage therapist: These soft-tissue specialists are trained to work out knots and adhesions that are causing pain and limiting adequate muscle function. Many of them are also certified in Active Release Technique and Graston for more serious issues.
Physical therapist: They provide a rehab plan for existing injuries and can also assist in identifying the root cause of your issues. Through a series of tests, including running or walking on a treadmill and strength and balance diagnostics, physical therapists are often able to figure out what caused the problem in the first place. In addition to rehabilitation, they often provide exercises to help you prevent similar issues from occurring down the road.