Have you found yourself running or walking regularly for the first time in a while? Running through your neighborhood streets is an easy and efficient form of exercise and a good way to get some fresh air. There are numerous physical and mental benefits to exercise and sometimes, it’s just fun to see your neighbors spending time outdoors.
But if you have gone from exercising only rarely to frequently strolling or jogging through the streets, your body may not be used to this new healthy habit. It’s easy to push too far too fast and wind up with an injury.
Additionally, you may encounter some unexpected surprises along your route that could cause you to stumble or injure yourself. Some things to keep an eye on while walking or running include uneven or wet pavement, debris in your path, and your dog’s eagerness to cut you off and chase that squirrel or greet the oncoming dog across the street.
To move better and keep it at a safe pace, Eric Stehly, MD, orthopedic sports medicine surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Grapevine recommends having realistic expectations and setting some goals to work toward.
It’s easy to push too far too fast and wind up with an injury.
If you have been sedentary, start with a 20 to 30-minute walk at a comfortable pace after some basic stretches. Then, increase your time or effort by no more than 10% after one week. Ensure you use supportive walking shoes that provide cushion and stability.
Even with the best preparation or a higher level of fitness, injuries still happen. Below are some of the most common injuries experienced by walkers and runners of all fitness levels, remedies you can try at home, some prevention tips and when to contact an orthopedic specialist.
Ankle sprains happen when your turn or roll your foot from misplacement or uneven ground. A person with a sprained ankle will experience swelling and possible bruising, and they may be at higher risk for incurring another sprain in the future.
Sprains can usually be treated at home with the acronym RICE:
- Rest to give yourself time to heal.
- Ice packs for reduced swelling.
- Compression and Elevation above your heart height to help move out swelling.
Multiple sprains or even one really bad sprain can lead to ankle instability or impingement, which can usually be treated with physical therapy. Some cases may require surgery to repair a torn ligament.
These occur most frequently in runners or those doing quick starts and stops. Those preferring a faster pace may develop this condition when they increase their speed or distance, they have changed their running surface to something harder or they lack good shoes to absorb the pounding shock.
Shin splints cause pain on the front or side of your shin. There can be tenderness where muscle connects to bone. Reducing inflammation is most helpful in healing shin splints at home through rest, ice and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxin. Use only the recommended dose for NSAIDs and for short durations.
If pain persists, you may need physical therapy or in more severe cases, surgery.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome
This can occur for many reasons including natural aging, as part of osteoarthritis of the knee, mechanical misalignment and even weak hip muscles. The patella is positioned in front of your leg just below your kneecap and will become painful when injured.
NSAIDs may be helpful along with rest or reduction in the frequency or distance of exercise. When pain persists, speak with your physician about conservative treatment from topical medication to physical therapy.
Iliotibial band (IT band) syndrome
Iliotibial band syndrome occurs from trying to do too much exercise too soon or through overuse injury, pushing your body beyond its limits. This tendon, commonly referred to as the IT band, is located on the side of your legs and connects muscles to bone.
Someone with this syndrome may feel pain running up their thigh or down the side of their leg. This condition rarely needs surgery and often responds well to alternating heat and ice.
Low back pain
Low back pain will strike most people at some point in their life. The good news is this type of pain usually heals on its own with the right home remedies. Home remedies to try include short-term bedrest of no more than two days to help alleviate pressure on discs.
You may treat some symptoms with over-the-counter drugs to help with pain reduction but it’s best to check with your physician first before doing this.
Focus on strengthening your abdominal muscles to help support your spine, and if possible, change your exercise to walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike or swimming. If you experience numbness, tingling or a loss of bladder and bowel function, contact your physician.
Interdigital Neuroma or Morton’s Neuroma
This condition creates pain from a non-cancerous growth between the toes but the cause of the growth is largely unknown, although many foot surgeons believe it is caused by entrapment of the nerve.
With this condition, you may experience swelling and the sensation of a rock being in your shoe as you walk or an uncomfortable catching. If a temporary reduction in your activities and change in footwear doesn’t help, a foot surgeon may need to remove the neuroma or perform ligament release.
Achilles tendonopathy can occur in athletes and those living more sedentary lifestyles. This condition causes heel pain and for some, could lead to the tendon’s rupture. Rest and applying ice to help reduce pain is recommended, along with taking an NSAID if needed.
This is a common culprit of heel pain and can happen when small tears in the fascia occur as we walk and the weight of our body stresses the fascia as our foot flattens when we step.
“Runners, those who are overweight and those wearing shoes with poor support are at higher risk,” Dr. Stehly said.
These small tears are usually repaired by our bodies but if multiple repairs occur, a bone spur may result, which could add further discomfort. Pain can also be felt along the arch of your foot and prolonged standing could enhance the pain.
Dr. Stehly recommends the following steps to ease the pain:
- Take a break from activities
- Try ice on the painful areas
- Stretch your feet, ankles and calves for improved flexibility
- Add supportive orthotics to your shoes
“If these measures don’t help within a couple of months, your doctor may offer steroid injections and other conservative treatment options,” he said.
Stress fractures can happen when attempting a new exercise program in which you’ve tried to do too much too soon. They also occur from repeated force in runners or through normal use when osteoporosis is present. Stress fractures commonly affect weight-bearing bones, particularly the lower leg and foot.
“To prevent stress fractures, start any new exercise slowly and keep additional effort or distance within a 10% increase each week,” Dr. Stehly said. “Proper footwear is great prevention as is a diet that includes vitamin D and calcium to help maintain bone strength. Adding in a low-impact activity like yoga that doesn’t put a lot of stress on joints provides cross-training in your routine and reduces your risk.”
With some preparation and mindfulness, you can be well on your way to starting a great new, healthy habit.
Ready to move better? Get started today.