What to look out for AFTER the marathon
You can see it… the finish line! After months of training and pushing your body and mind to the limit, you have finally reached your goal and completed a major bucket-list item. No matter what distance is covered, running takes a toll on your body and you will feel discomfort. For some seasoned runners, it might just be post race stiffness and some muscle soreness for a couple of days (lucky!). For others it may be cramping, muscle pain, aching joints and even a few lost toenails. Unfortunately, some of you may experience an injury during or after the race. Sometimes these injuries take a while to work their way to the surface, after the adrenaline and post-race stories have worn out their welcome, days or even weeks later. Regardless if you have signed up for another race or plan on never running another race again, these injuries can affect your daily life. Walking, getting up out of a chair, climbing stairs or even just sitting at your desk could be uncomfortable. So the question is: “What do I do about it now?”.
I guess the even bigger question is: “How do I know this pain is not normal?” Your body has an excellent built-in alert system that can tell you when things are not normal. It’s called PAIN. If you are feeling sharp, acute, focal pain, it’s your body telling you something is wrong. An area could be painful to touch, with movement, with or without weight bearing, or even at rest. If these pains are not improving within 5-7days of the marathon, it needs to be addressed. If the pain is waking you at night, it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. You may need to do some stretching, or do other exercises on your own, or it could require a trip to your family doctor, physical therapist or orthopedic specialist.
Another indicator of concern is SWELLING. A joint or area could be hot to touch, look or feel puffy, or you can sense “fullness” when you move it. It does not necessarily have to be painful for swelling to occur. What could it be? Well, lots of things that you probably don’t want to search on the Internet and spaz out about. Bottom line is that swelling is your body’s way of healing an injury, sending inflammatory products to the damaged area. It is good, but also needs to be controlled. Using an ice pack on the area for 10-15 minutes at a time is a great way to help relieve pain and decrease swelling. You could also think about over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, but only with the consent of your physician.
As physical therapists, our first priority is to examine your injury and determine if it is something a PT can help or if you need to be directed to your PCP, urgent care, or to make an appointment with an orthopedic specialist. We might be able to save you a trip to another doctor, and if needed we can treat you for up to 30 days (in Pennsylvania) if the PT holds a direct access license.
We see a lot of injuries from experienced runners, walk/runners, and weekend warriors. Here are a few gentle, static stretches that can help with hip, knee, ankle and even lower back discomfort. In the case of an injury, these should be done under the supervision of a trained physical therapist.
~Brad Stotsky, PT, DPT, OCS
- Seated Hamstring stretch: Sit on the edge of a chair, one leg bent and the other leg straight with toes pointing up. Lean over the straight leg. Gently let gravity pull you forward and stretch the hamstring on the straight leg. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
- Supine IT Band stretch: Lie flat on your back, cross one leg over the other leg’s thigh and place a towel through/around the knee of the crossed leg. Gently stretch buttock/hip muscle by pulling the towel across the body at about a 45 degree angle to your body. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
- Standing Quad stretch: Stand tall, keeping shoulder, hip and knee in one straight line. Bend knee and reach back to grasp foot or ankle. Gently pull foot towards buttocks creating a stretch in the front of thigh. Hold. Slowly lower your foot to starting position. You can use your opposite hand to balance on something stationary. You can also prop your foot on a table or the back of a chair instead of grasping your ankle. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
- Towel calf stretch: Sit with knee straight and towel looped around the ball of one foot. Gently pull on the towel until a stretch is felt in the calf. You can also sit in a chair with leg straight, heel on the ground. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
- Lower trunk rotations: Lie on your back with both knees bent, feet together and flat on the floor. Keeping your shoulders flat to the ground during the entire exercise, gently drop your knees to the right. Allow your knees to go down to the floor as far as comfortable. Return to starting position. Then drop your knees to the left as far as comfortable. You should feel a stretch in the lower back and hip areas. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.