How to feel better, faster.
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
Run training can be a pain in the neck. But more often, it’s a pain in the knee, or the hip, or the foot. The most common type of pain associated with endurance training is post-exercise muscle soreness, which is normal, essentially harmless, and goes away on its own very quickly. Less often, however, pain is the first sign of an emerging injury. This type of pain is usually more intense and localized—and it will only get worse if you don’t do something about it. So as soon as you start to experience injury pain, you need to modify your training so that you don’t aggravate the area. Then try any of the following half-dozen proven remedies to help control the tissue inflammation that always underlies injury pain.
“Cold therapy” is a general term for what is most commonly called “icing,” but also includes cold baths and ice massage. Cold therapy reduces inflammation and associated pain by causing blood vessels to constrict, restricting blood flow to the affected area. Cold therapy is most effective when it is done frequently. Try it three or more times per day for 10 minutes at a time.
When you think of medicines that treat inflammation, the first ones that come to mind are probably non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin. Taking one of these over-the-counter medications is an effective way to get temporary relief from the symptoms of pain and inflammation due to injury. Simply use them according to label directions when you have a new injury or a degree of pain that you cannot easily ignore. Avoid long-term use of NSAIDs, however, as it increases your risk of ulcers, kidney damage, and joint cartilage deterioration. Also, do not use NSAIDs to treat normal post-exercise muscle soreness, as such drugs actually retard the process of muscle-tissue repair and muscle recovery.
If you prefer to limit your use of drugs, there are some natural alternatives to NSAIDs you should consider when you’re dealing with inflammation. Two popular natural alternatives are bromelain and arnica. Bromelain is an enzyme extracted from pineapple fruit. It has a narrower effect than NSAIDs, preventing the synthesis of specific pro-inflammatory compounds, and works best when consumed on an empty stomach. Follow label dosage instructions. Arnica (short for arnica montana, also known as wolf’s bane) is a flowering plant that is used to create topical creams, ointments, and tinctures. It is believed to affect the inflammatory response at an early stage, but instead of completely interrupting the inflammatory response—as NSAIDs do—arnica gently suppresses it. As with bromelain, follow instructions on the package label for dosage.
The general principle behind elevation is to decrease inflammation at the site of injury by reducing blood flow to that area. If there is swelling in the injured area, elevate it above the level of your heart for 10 minutes, three to five times a day.
Compressing an injury with a compression wrap also helps to manage inflammation by reducing blood flow to the area. Effective compression requires proper technique that you may need to learn from a doctor or physical therapist. A good example is wrapping a sprained ankle. It’s important to fill the hollows in the ankle area with some type of padding before wrapping it. Otherwise you will squeeze blood into the areas you’re trying to compress it out of.
Recent studies have shown this ancient Chinese medical treatment alleviates pain associated with a variety of conditions, from low-back pain to osteoarthritis. And according to some experts, it works well for many sports injuries, too. It is speculated that acupuncture achieves its therapeutic effects by altering nervous system activity, but the specific mechanisms are still unknown. If you choose to try acupuncture as a treatment for a sports injury, make an effort to find a practitioner who is experienced in working with athletes.
Check out Matt’s latest book, Racing Weight Quick Start Guide: A 4-Week Weight-Loss Plan for Endurance Athletes.