It’s here! The end of winter has finally come to Northeast Ohio. If you are anything like me, the cabin fever was the real deal this year but nothing makes it disappear quicker than some good, old-fashioned outdoor activities. Running, hiking, playing different sports, or simply just running around in the backyard will make even the grumpiest winter fanatic crack a small smile. Far too often, however, people blow out of the gate too fast. Having over 10 years of experience in the medical field, I’ve seen firsthand that springtime is the prime time for overuse injuries due to our bodies not being well prepared for activity. Some of the most common overuse injuries that I have seen, which I will discuss more in-depth in this article, are plantar fasciitis and patellar tendonitis. We will review the causes and some simple, at-home adjustments and remedies that can help to fix or prevent these issues from ruining the start to your spring.
The first injury, and arguably the most common (or most commonly misdiagnosed), is plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue that attaches your heel bone to your toe bones. This tissue helps to support the arch of your foot and often takes the brunt of the forces that we put through our feet. Plantar fasciitis, by definition, is inflammation or swelling of this tissue. It is more common in the middle-aged community but is also present in younger populations, especially with those who are on their feet for long periods of time, like athletes or soldiers.
When this tissue gets inflamed, it becomes very painful to walk, run, or even put weight through that heel. This pain can really put a damper on a beautiful, sunny spring day when all of your friends are heading out to the park for some outdoor fun. This inflammation basically comes from over-stretching the tissue without properly warming up. No one wants to miss out on these awesome excursions, so let’s talk about some different ways to prevent plantar fasciitis from happening to you. Stretching is going to be crucial to the health of your feet. When we sleep, our feet are relaxed in a pointed position with the tissue spending hours in a shortened state. Getting up in the morning and taking our first steps puts the tissue in a strained state, quickly stretching what has been shortened all night. One of the first things we will want to do is to easily stretch the feet before hopping out of bed. This is probably the most beneficial preventative measure that you can take to avoid plantar fasciitis.
Sometimes, though, all the preventative stretching may not be enough to avoid it. In that case, I have a simple treatment that can be done at home to alleviate pain and help to move in the direction of healing. You’ll need a plastic water bottle and a freezer. Fill the water bottle between a half and three quarters with water and lay it on its side in the freezer. When the water is frozen, take it out of the freezer and lay it on the floor in front of your favorite chair or couch. Place your foot on the bottle and roll it back and forth across the arch of your foot and up onto your heel. The ice will work to decrease some of the inflammation in your arch and the constant rolling motion will break up any adhesions or buildup in the tissue. This little therapeutic trick can be done any time during the day, but limit it to no more than twenty minutes at a time.
Another common injury that is seen in the springtime is patellar tendonitis. Patellar tendonitis is an inflammation of our patellar tendon that connects the upper leg and lower leg, as well as holding the patella, or kneecap, in place. Also known as jumper’s knee, patellar tendonitis is found most commonly in jumping athletes such as basketball and volleyball players, but can be found in anyone who is active, especially after a long period of time being inactive. The patellar tendon helps the knee to flex or bend when walking, climbing stairs, standing up from a chair, etc. Inflammation in this tendon can result in some pretty decent pain with daily activities and can completely sideline you from the fun activities.
Stretching is going to be another crucial tool for avoiding patellar tendonitis. The hamstring stretch will help to keep your knee from hyperextending and placing a lot of strain on the patellar tendon. Another stretch that can help to avoid or alleviate pain is the quadriceps stretch or, as some people call it, the flamingo stretch. Strength training can help to relieve or prevent patellar tendonitis. One strength training exercise that helps to build strength in the quads is a straight leg raise. Lie flat and fully straighten at the knee, simply raise and lower the leg in a controlled manner for two sets of ten to start, building in frequency throughout the day as you get stronger.
Ice and elevation can help to reduce inflammation and pain on those days when it bothers you more than usual. If these measures are not enough to alleviate or prevent patellar tendonitis, there are some different types of braces and straps that you can get over the counter from any pharmacy or sporting goods store. The one that I have found to work best with former patients is the patellar tendon strap. This strap puts pressure on the tendon and reduces pressure through it and instead disperses the pressure through the strap.
If either of these issues become problematic for you and can’t be resolved with what I have laid out for you here, consult a physician or physical therapist for further treatment. Hopefully these tips and tricks can help you to enjoy nature as the weather changes and becomes warmer, and you can shake off that cabin fever.
Spring Running Injuries