What runners need to know about inflammation
Editor's note: The following should not be considered medical advice. It is developed through my own research and as I have learned through my own n of 1 as I have recovered from injuries. If you are dealing with an injury, consult your doctor, physical therapist or other medical professional.
By Henry Howard
Every runner at one time or another will deal with an injury related to inflammation.
Running injuries often occur following damage from overuse to a muscle, tendon. or connective tissue. Our bodies naturally send in reinforcements, targeting the injured area with inflammatory cells. That's when runners detect pain, stiffness and/or soreness.
As a coach, I ask my athletes to let me know immediately when they feel a niggle or other sign of injury. A couple of days of rest or recovery is the better option than pushing through a potentially taking off a much longer period of time due to a more significant injury. (I also need to remind myself of this as well.)
When these injuries pop up, we often think that we need to rid ourselves of the inflammation. However, trends are indicating that it is often better for the athlete to use the inflammation to heal the injury.
We've known for a while that anti-inflammatories may remove the pain, but don't actually treat the injury. I stay away from those and instead use Prevail Botanicals, a CBD-based salve that helps heal injuries naturally.
During a recent bout I had with a stubborn case of plantar fasciitis, I learned that my foot responded better to a warm compress than ice. Compression did not seem to work well either. (Earlier I wrote about how MEAT is becoming a more effective approach than the RICE treatment.)
By applying a warm pad to the injury, the heat soothes tense muscles and increases blood flow, which helps heal the damaged tissue.
Heal thyself naturally
There are other ways that athletes can heal themselves naturally when injuries pop up. Nature has provided us with an abundance of foods that target inflammation. Among them:
• All kinds of fruits, especially blueberries, strawberries, grapes and cherries.
• Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and collards.
• Nuts like almonds and walnuts.
• Other vegetables such as avocados, broccoli, peppers, onion and mushrooms.
• Green tea.
• Spices like tumeric, garlic and cinnamon.
Here are some ways to hold off inflammation, or use it to help heal your injury:
• Diet: In addition to the items listed above to incorporate into your diet, there are foods to stay away from that will stifle your recovery. It's always wise to avoid processed foods. At the same time, reduce the amount of added sugar in the foods you consume. The natural sugar in fruits is fine.
• Foam rolling. As a masters athlete, I foam roll every night before going to bed. Since I have encountered various lower-leg and foot-related injuries, I also elevate my legs for five to 10 minutes nightly. This promotes the blood flow, which again, helps heal injuries.
• Rest and recovery days. Inflammation is often a sign of an overuse injury. Unless you are a high school or college athlete, it is unlikely that your body can tolerate hard workouts day after day. As we age, our bodies need more time to recover. In your weekly training plan, be sure to include days for rest and recovery. These can be complete rest days, yoga or cross-training activities like cycling, swimming or hiking.
And once you heal yourself and return to running, remember what worked best for you to fix the injury.
There's no reason to stop doing what worked. Keep up the healthy diet, cross-training, resting and foam rolling. By doing so, you are helping your body recover, which will allow you to continue chasing your athletic goals.