Editor’s note: For this blog post, we have asked Ankle & Foot Center to be our guest, and to educate us on common overtraining injuries. Please take a moment to check out Dr. Segler’s website, the Ankle & Foot Center. If you are in the San Fransisco area and in need of treatment, including custom orthotics, be sure to contact Dr. Segler. He even makes house calls!
An overtraining injury is about the worst thing that can happen to a triathlete. Not just because it interrupts your training, but because it is preventable. The first step to avoiding injury is choosing the right coach and following the plan. The reality is that if you communicate with your coach and provide feedback on how your body is doing, you can avoid the following common triathlon-related complaints.
- Shin Splints Shins splints are an aching or throbbing pain in the front of the leg. They usually get worse while you run. In general, shin splints are cause by one of two problems: increasing your running mileage too quickly or faulty bio-mechanics. Having one leg longer than the other or over-striding are common causes. Running on concrete surfaces or hills can also lead to shin splints. Always tell your coach if you think you are getting shin splints.
- Metatarsal Stress Fractures Stress fractures in the foot are one of the most feared injuries among runners. The metatarsal bones are the ones most affected by stress fractures. Stress fractures usually start as a mild aching pain while running. If you ignore the pain and keep training, the foot will hurt while merely walking. It might even throb a little while resting. A sudden increase in running mileage is almost always associated with metatarsal stress fractures. This is why you must stick with your coachʼs plan.
- Achilles Tendinitis The Achilles tendon attaches the powerful calf muscle to the back of the heel. It is the largest tendon in your entire body. Interestingly, it is also the one most vulnerable to injury. Of all workouts triathletes do, speed work (such as short, high-intensity intervals) poses the greatest risk to the Achilles tendon. For this reason, you have to treat speed work with respect! Never run harder or do more intervals than you coach recommends. If you get any soreness in the Achilles, tell your coach and get it checked out.
- Illio-Tibia Band Syndrome Illio-tibial band syndrome (ITBS) is probably the most common cause of knee pain in triathletes. ITBS happens when the thick band of tissue along the outside of your leg pops back and forth across a bump at the outside of the knee. This leads to inflammation and pain. If you discuss your running shoes, running style and the surfaces you run on with your coach, you might find a simple cure.
- Patella-femoral Syndrome Pain directly under the knee cap (the patella) is common in cyclists and runners. For this reason, triathletes are at risk. It results from irritation of the cartilage between the patella and the end of the femur (thigh bone). The key is to make sure the knee is aligned properly with a correct bike fit. The fix can be as simple as adjusting saddle height or shimming the pedal cleats to slightly tilt the knee in or out while riding. Your coach might be able to view a video of you riding on a trainer to get an idea of the proper adjustments.
The one thing that all of these overuse injuries have in common is that they are preventable. You cannot change your bio-mechanics or the way you are built. But the right triathlon coach can help you avoid all of these injuries by taking note of your aches and pains and creating a training plan that works around these potential problems.It takes many years of experience to develop the capacity to make these sorts of decisions and recognize the warning signs of an impending injury. Because triathlon coaches have all of that experience, be sure that you express any minor soreness or unusual stiffness, before it turns into an overuse injury.As an athlete in training, you have to trust your coach and the plan your coach creates for you. By the same token, your coach relies on you to give feedback about your workouts. If you put just a little effort into communicating how your body feels after your various workouts, your coach will be able to keep you on track and get you to the finish line.
Dr. Christopher Segler is a multiple Ironman Finisher and a foot and ankle surgeon in San Francisco. He has published over 70 scientific articles and abstracts, including a chapter in a sports medicine textbook. He has also won multiple awards from the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons and the American Podiatric Medical Association for his foot and ankle research. To learn more about triathlon related injuries visit the Ankle & Foot Center