When I was running high mileage in college (high mileage being defined as 85-105 miles per week in season, or 95-120 miles per week in pre-season) there were very often minor aches and pains associated with the high mileage. Often times, there were not so minor aches and pains as well. I can not think of anybody that was even slightly successful in the program that was not hurt at one point or another. Not everybody was able to handle the high mileage the same way. For myself, I managed to work really well in that system for about 2 years before I broke down with a stress fracture in my left leg and tendonitis in my right knee.
On the team, we had a way to deal with injuries. The process that we preferred was to get “RID” of injuries, where RID stood for Rest, Ice, and Drugs. For most of us, we skipped the rest and went straight to the ice. Others skipped the rest and the ice and went straight to the drugs; they have the ulcers now to prove it. Another popular acronym in running communities is the “RICE” method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. I will expand upon each element below.
There are three basic types of rest.
- Passive Rest: Passive rest is cutting back your mileage and/or your intensity in your workouts. You run less or you run less hard or both. This gives your body a chance to recover. Any fitness program should incorporate some sort of passive rest well before you get injured, because your body needs time to repair the muscle tears that training causes. It is the whole point of doing the work in the first place.
- Active Rest: Active rest is doing the same activity at a much lower intensity. Recovery runs and morning runs tend to be active rest. For example, in the evening, you might do a speed workout on a track. The next morning, you might run a few junk miles just to stretch out and prepare yourself for another workout that evening. Your only run the day after a hard workout might be a few easy miles. This allows you to stretch your legs out, void any nasty toxins that are still lingering from the day before, and generally just gives your mind a chance to do the activity without having to focus on it. Done properly, recovery runs keep you from burning out. Done improperly, they bring you some huge performance gains followed very swiftly by injuries and burn out.
- Cross Training: Cross training is basically the same thing as active rest except that it is a different sport. If you are a runner, good cross training activities include bicycling, swimming, rowing, and weight lifting. You get a cardiovascular benefit, but you use different muscles and in most cases reduce the impact on your joints during the activity. Instead of running junk miles for a half hour, you could go out and get a pretty intense swimming workout in without negatively impacting your next workout on the roads or track. A proper weight lifting routine should be a part of your regular training to make sure that you have a good balance in your body and that every major muscle group gets a good workout. If you are a beginner weight lifter, I recommend that you check out The New Rules of Lifting.
The theory behind the icing your muscles is that your muscles constrict and the bloodflow is diverted to your deeper muscles close to the bone to keep them safe against the extreme temperatures that you are applying to the outside of the muscle. When you take cold away from your body, fresh blood rushes through the muscles that does not have any of the chemicals released by your muscles as you ripped and tore them during exercise. This speeds up the healing process.
In general, any time that you feel even the least bit more sore than normal, I recommend that you ice early and ice often. I wrote a series about a month ago that describes different ways to ice your muscles:
Drugs could easily be a twenty article series, but I will give a brief overview here. First, different drugs are going to cause your body to do different things during a workout than you are used to, whether it is a drug that you are taking because of an injury or because of something completely unrelated to your athletic pursuits. Be careful about side effects, especially drugs that cause a sensitivity to the sun.
The only drug that I have ever really used to help treat or prevent an injury was ibuprofen. Ibuprofen does a good job of reducing swelling, which allows fresh blood to get into inflamed areas and encourage the healing process. A few ibuprofen with your icing early on can prevent you from getting a season ending injury. You need to make sure that you do not take it on an empty stomach, though, and I recommend limiting it to only when you really need it. Ibuprofen can thin your blood a little, which is not really something that you want as an athlete. That being said, you will probably need to ignore the recommend dosages. Talk to your doctor about what is appropriate for you before you do, however. He or she will have a much better idea about what is appropriate for you.
The general consensus in my locker room was to take two to four pills at a time after each run. For myself, the most I ever took at a time was two pills after each run, and that was right before I came down with a stress fracture and tendonitis. Obviously, drugs alone are not enough to prevent an injury. In general, when I felt a need to take ibuprofen, I usually only took one pill or two pills after a morning run and nothing after the evening run. I recommend caution and better advice from somebody that knows more about the subject.
I never really subscribed to the RICE method, but wrapping your muscles accomplishes two things. First, when you wrap a muscle before exercise, it restricts your movement. This can be good if you need to prevent yourself from doing further damage, which can happen if you have a full range of motion or an injury caused by a hyperextension. Second, compressing an injury after exercise can accomplish some of the same things as icing your injury. It limits blood flow to the muscle, so that when you remove the compression fresh blood can move in and flush out any toxins you need removed.
Elevation is another method for encouraging fresh blood to a muscle by denying it as much blood as you can for a short time. I have used elevation as a preventative measure even less than I have used compression. The only times I have felt a need to elevate an injury was when I had severe swelling and wanted to prevent any sort of fluids from accumulating in the broken or sprained area in an effort to reduce the swelling.
As a quick overview, I hope you found this guide helpful. Not subscribing to the RICE method, I am sorry that I do not have a lot to say from my own experiences about compression or elevation. In general, especially now that I train myself, I try to stick to using rest and ice to control injuries and to perform preventative maintenance on my body. For the most part, it works out pretty well for me.