Colorado is full of active people who have a passion for running, hiking, cycling, triathlons and other sports. Besides getting the chance to enjoy the great outdoors these sports offer numerous physical benefits and help keep fitness an important part of every week. But what about getting derailed by an overuse injury and the threat of having to shut down your workouts?
Overuse injuries are the result of repetitive micro-trauma to tissues such as muscles, tendons, ligaments and even bone. Common diagnoses include tendinitis, bursitis, stress fractures and chronic muscle pain (myositis). Sometimes this is simply the result of doing too much training, but in many cases there are underlying factors that if not dealt with can make a recovery difficult or very prolonged.
Every sport has unique biomechanical demands on the body, and our muscular system can be thought of as having “primary muscles” and “secondary muscles” for each sport. Primary muscles should do the bulk of the work while the secondary ones serve more in a back-up role. Our nervous system calls on secondary muscles once the primary ones become fatigued, but also when there is a muscle or joint imbalance.
A good example is in running where our larger gluteus maximus muscles have the primary role of propelling us down the road. When the gluteus maximus is weaker, or inhibited (think lazy), the body may compensate by over-recruiting the calf muscle on that same side to assist with push off. As this becomes habitual the athlete often suffers from Achilles tendinitis, a common running injury.
Another common cause for an overuse injury is altered joint alignment such as the hips and pelvis. Similar to a car frame, our bodies can fall out of neutral alignment. In a car with bad alignment, there may be no symptoms if it is just driven a few short miles a day for work commute; however that same car, driven 75 miles a day, will much more quickly develop a balding tire. Endurance sports are no different, they expose the imbalances. This is why a runner who has stayed healthy to run 5k and 10k races suddenly falls apart when they increase their training for a half or full marathon. The increased training distances simply exposed an imbalance that may have been there all along.
When considering muscle and joint imbalances the key is isolate the problem areas, and also to understand that nearly all of these compensating patterns can be fixed through corrective exercises.