Increasing your training slowly is important for helping to prevent overuse injuries.

As the weather warms up in the Northeast, many runners are either gearing up for the Boston Marathon or just heading out for an enjoyable jog around the neighborhood. Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin, Surgical Director of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Women’s Sports Medicine Program and Team Physician for Stonehill College Athletics, has some important advice for these runners on how to prevent overuse injuries, which account for over 20 percent of running injuries in the leg.

Overuse injuries can be largely prevented with proper training. The most important thing to remember is to increase your training slowly – by about 10 percent per week. This gradual approach allows your muscles, tendons, and bones to sufficiently react and adapt to the stress you’re introducing.

You also should remember to stay hydrated and eat healthy. Your body will need extra nutrients to make up for the increased energy expenditure during your training. If you don’t feed your body sufficiently, the resulting low energy balance will increase the risk of injuries.

The most common overuse injuries in runners include:

  • Tendonitis

Tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendons around the knee or ankle, usually is caused by an increase in the duration and intensity of an exercise. Fortunately, treatment is fairly straightforward – rest, icing, anti-inflammatory medications, and, if necessary, new footwear.

  • Stress fracture

A stress fracture in the leg is caused by abnormal stress on the bones, such as a substantial and sudden change in the intensity of your workout. Your muscles become so fatigued by the extra work that they transfer the stress to the bones – most often in the lower leg – and a tiny crack appears. A stress fracture also can occur when you exercise on a different type of surface or use the wrong equipment. Runners with this condition feel activity-related pain, tenderness, and swelling.

With proper rest, however, your bones often will have the time they need to repair any microscopic fractures or grow stronger so they can take the wear and tear of an activity. Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment also may include a cast or walking boot, nutritional recommendations, and revising the intensity and duration of your exercise routine when you are ready to run again.

Stress fractures are more common in female athletes and are often associated with poor nutrition, lack of menstruation, and low bone mineral density (Female Athlete Triad).

If something hurts, try cutting back on your training, increase your rest, ice the affected area, and take anti-inflammatory medications. But if the pain persists, seek the advice of a specialist. You can also learn more at upcoming educational sessions presented by our physicians at Brigham and Women’s/Mass General Health Care Center.

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