Running Injuries Pose Challenge to Trainers, Athletes

Emma Lehmann

Physical therapy facilities contain a variety of injured people — some are on crutches, some have large knee braces and others appear to be completely functional. This is because some chronic injuries are hard to detect.

Many severe sports injuries are completely debilitating and even require surgery — a torn ACL, for instance, can impair basic mobility for as long as a year. A broken leg can similarly prevent someone from performing basic activities.

The difference between these types of injuries and common running problems is their onset. While many serious sports injuries can occur in a second, running injuries have a progressive course.

“[Running injuries have] an insidious rather than acute onset,” noted junior Carey Lyons, a cross country runner. Lyons suffered many injuries over the course of her college career, including a calcaneal stress fracture and a currently unidentified hip problem.

Running injuries often evolve differently than other athletic-inducted afflictions. Chronic running injuries often take the form of tendonitis or stress fractures — both are treatable, but can require extensive time off from the sport. The clear solution in many cases is to take a few weeks hiatus from running, but many athletes ignore this proscription.

Assistant Athletic Trainer Christine Schwartz, who is responsible to the Oberlin cross country team, agrees.

“With long distance runners, it can be harder to reach compliance,” she said. “Some runners have the mentality that if they take time off of running, that they will be out of condition. Runners have the love and passion of running, not cross-training, so it can be hard for the athlete to accept that decreased physical activity and immobilization are a very essential part in healing a chronic injury.”

Senior cross country captain Lauren Taylor is guilty of this mentality.

“Endurance sport injuries are harder to treat — you lose so much fitness from taking time off, ” she said.

Taylor has suffered from a pelvic stress fracture that first appeared the summer after her sophomore year. She spent most of her junior year injury-free but endured a stress reaction for three weeks this fall.

Stress reactions, while less serious than fractures, indicate that the bone is weak and susceptible to breakage. A runner with a stress reaction is usually advised to take about two weeks off. Athletes can cross train by swimming or biking, but sometimes they are advised to avoid physical activity entirely.

Taylor has had a positive experience working with the athletic trainers in the Athletics department this fall. “They’ve really been proactive about trying to strengthen the area surrounding [my injury],” she noted.

Therapies for overuse injuries often employ some sort of strength training, because the cause of the injury is usually related to an imbalance in form. Strength training is also useful for avoiding future injuries. Unfortunately, many athletes will only follow a strengthening regimen after they become injured.

Runners also have a different relationship with the trainers than other athletes. Athletic trainers are assigned to specific sports, and in some cases develop a strong relationship with the team.

“It’s more difficult for us to come to them because we don’t work with them as much as other sports,” said Taylor. Other teams, especially in contact sports, have a more involved relationship with their trainers.

The men’s soccer team, for example, has close ties to their athletic trainer. “We have a good relationship with our trainer, Jill [Rondini]. She comes to all of our games,” said junior soccer player Remi Schneider.

Of course, different sports come with different risks, and soccer players especially need to be careful of head injuries. Trainers have to be present at practice because the risk of receiving an acute injury in a contact sport is much higher. The involvement of the trainer is dictated by the nature of the sport — running seems to be the rare case in which pain is both common and expected.

“When you’re running every day, usually something is going to hurt; it’s just whether or not you decided to talk to someone about it,” said Taylor.

The difficulty lies in determining what degree of pain is dangerous. Runners can help protect against future injuries by being more proactive when they feel pain. Better communication about preventative exercises and injury risk may reduce running ailments.