Saturday, January 19, 2013

What should be in a runner's injury self-treatment kit?

As much as I like scientifically validated treatments for injury, I think there's a lot to be gained from "road wisdom" treatments for running injuries.  Over the years, an experienced runner picks up or stumbles upon many useful remedies for aches, pains, and injuries.  You probably have a shoe box or plastic container with the assorted treatment aids you've amassed over the years, from doctors, physical therapists, or running stores.  There's also a veritable army of online sellers who are looking to sell devices to "cure" common running injuries (most are worthless).  A lot of these road wisdom treatments involve special gadgets or materials, so I'd like to share what's in my own personal "injury treatment kit." I will also show some things I have not found to be particularly helpful, and a few items that I recommend but don't currently have.  You'll have to excuse the pictures from my sub-par camera.

A.  Rope for stretching (~10' long)
I picked this up at the local hardware store for a few dollars.  You can find nice quality rope for well under a dollar per foot.  The length might seem long, but it's actually necessary if you want to do hamstring stretching while laying on your back.  If you're into Active Isolated Stretching, having a stretching rope is a necessity.  Use a flame to fuse the ends so it doesn't fray.

B.  Elastic theraband for exercises

I have a lot of these laying around from visits to PT offices.  They come in various stretchinesses, and you can order them online for not too much money.  There are a few good exercises for your hips, knees, and ankles that require a theraband, so it's a good investment.  if you can, get a thicker one, as they are less prone to breaking—thin ones seem to have a tendency to get brittle and snap.

C.  Rolling tools: Tiger tail, golf ball, Rubz foot ball, tennis ball, lacrosse ball

There are a lot of theories on how soft tissue is involved in injuries, and a lot of these—like trigger point theory—purport to be a cure-all.  While I think these explanations are off the mark, I have found rolling to be pretty effective with soft tissue injuries.  The various "balls" are good for different parts of the body: the golf ball and Rubz ball for the arch of your foot, and the tennis ball and lacrosse ball for the hips, hamstrings, and especially the glutes.  There are a few variants of rubber textured foot balls; I highly recommend you get one for your arches. They are the right stiffness, and they don't slide away on hard surfaces like golf balls do.  You can pick them up online or at some specialty running stores.

Golf, tennis, and lacrosse balls can be found in reasonably abundant quantities nearby parks where the respective sports are played.  If you run on a golf course or do drills on a high school practice field, you're bound to come across some lost balls that would have ended up getting sheared apart by a lawnmower.

The "Tiger Tail" is a rip-off of "The Stick," the common muscle rolling tool.  I personally think the tiger tail  has marginally sturdier construction than The Stick, and if it does break, there won't be two dozen plastic rollers flying everywhere (as happened to one of my college roommates).  Either of the two are pretty great for calves and quads.  They are really good for other parts of your body too, but you'll need someone else to actually do the rolling. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

52 lessons learned from a year of weekly writing

As some of you probably know, I've been writing weekly articles for Runners Connect for the past year.  Runners Connect is a great coaching and training website run by Jeff Gaudette, a DI All-American and runner for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project.  This most recent article marked my 52nd weekly post at Runner's Connect, so I thought I'd write up a post looking back on the past year of my writing there to 1) give a big shout-out to Jeff Gaudette and all of the folks over there and 2) give a quick glimpse at what the scientific literature has to say about a vast range of topics.  For the full articles, head over to Runners Connect.  So, here are 52 useful lessons I've learned in the last year, one from each of my posts:

1.    Picking the right shoe isn't a matter of pronation control or arch support; it's chiefly a matter of what feels comfortable on your foot

2.    Increasing your stride frequency by about 10% appears to reduce loading on the hip and knee (though not the ankle)

3.    When it comes to "core strength" for runners, strength in the hips and glutes is most important for preventing injury

4.    Don't feel too bad about skimping on strength for the "traditional" core of the abdomen and back, because there's very little evidence that they matter much for preventing injury (Note: some recent reading I've been doing has discussed a connection between abdominal weakness and hamstring injuries—expect to see an injury series article on that in a few weeks)

5.    Weakness and dysfunction in a thin, wide muscle called the transverse abdominus, which runs underneath the "normal" ab muscles, may be linked to low back and groin problems.

6.     Drinking a cup of coffee (or taking a 200mg caffeine tablet) an hour before a race or workout will give you a small but notable performance boost (and you don't have to abstain from caffeine in the preceding days either!).

7.    Medical-grade compression socks—which are not the same thing as the Nike compressionwear or Oxysocks you'd find at most running stores—might boost performance by a smidge, but they seem to be better-suited for reducing soreness after a workout.

8.    Of all of the visits to the medical tent at a big-city marathon, over 20% are related to skin issues like blistering and chafing! Protect your skin with technical gear (socks, tights, etc) to keep your skin dry, petroleum jelly or another lubricant, and by wearing shoes that you've gotten used to.

9.    Once you are "over the hill," you don't slow down quite as much as you might think: Master's runners slow by about 1-2 seconds per mile per year for races from 10-15km, and 4-6 seconds per mile per year in the marathon.  Women also close the gap between male runners as they age.