Like most distance runners, I have had my share of pain of all kinds. One of the worst
examples I experienced was painful shin splints. This is a searing pain along the front of your tibia (shin bone). It didn’t happen frequently, and when I realized what the cause was, I adjusted my routine and haven’t been plagued since. My problem was when I stopped running for a while (away on a trip, continuous bad weather, or down with a cold or flu), when I started back up I would pick up where I left off-a daily five mile run. A fellow runner rightly blamed the shin pain on not building up my resistance enough. After a break, I now start slowly, with a half mile run, and add a half mile every few days until I am back to my normal distance. That taught a valuable lesson: you can’t cure it if you don’t know what is causing it.
What is the real cause?
Knee pain is one of the most common complaints of all athletes, but especially runners. But many athletes have started to realize that the interrelation of the parts of the body are crucial and are learning to address the causes. Running was not my problem; running too long after an extended break was the problem. A runner friend was experiencing knee problems and started to do Pilates and yoga on the days when her knees hurt, so she would not miss out on exercise all together. Unintended consequence: strengthening her hips through these stretching exercises gave her a better running stride and balance and eliminated the knee pain. Make sure you understand the causes of your pain before you seek a cure.
Is the benefit worth the risk?
Remember the old joke: a man visits his doctor and tells him “It hurts when I do this”. The doctor’s answer: “Don’t do that.” The obvious choice when we have pain is to avoid the activity that is causing it. But are we going to give up jogging because our hip twinges when we do? If you are a strong believer in the benefits of exercise, you would be loathe to stop running or working out, and so “work through the pain”. Better to have a little pain than risk obesity, heart disease and diabetes, right? But this is a case where substituting exercise is a clear choice. If you have joint damage or injury, it may be time to substitute yoga for running, or Pilates for weight lifting. Consult with your doctor and find out which exercises will give you the needed benefits, without the possible further damage.
Can you just switch it up?
A runner can switch to walking to avoid injury caused by high impact. If you lift weights, and you are feeling shoulder pain, try using Nautilus machines, which offer more smoothness and support instead of relying on the body’s momentum. For most sports, there is usually slower, kinder version that you can switch to without losing any of your exercise momentum. Talk to a doctor or trainer to learn what you can do to get the benefit of exercise without further damaging your joints.
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