Track and Field Athletes: Three Steps To Avoid Injury

April 27, 2016 | David W. Boone, MD

Image of 100 meters athletes in action with intentional blurring.

As the spring sports season approaches, it is important for track and field athletes to know how to avoid and treat injuries.

Acute and overuse types of musculoskeletal injuries are common for track and field athletes. Although acute fractures and sprains do occur, overuse problems such as tendonitis, stress fractures and muscle strains tend to be most common for track and field athletes. When improperly treated, these overuse injuries can linger and significantly hinder the athlete’s ability to participate in track and field events.

Unfortunately, injuries are a part of any athletic activity, but these steps can be taken to diminish the overall risk.

Step 1: Choosing the Right Shoe

When the athlete is running, the foot and subsequently the leg, knee and hip absorb significant force. The shoe must provide appropriate cushion to counteract these forces of weight, so it is important to select the most appropriate athletic footwear.

Proper fit is another key factor in picking the right shoe. The shoe should be both long and wide enough to accommodate the foot. Otherwise, the athlete could develop problems such as blisters, corns, calluses or even tendonitis. To avoid inappropriate fitting, look for shoes at the end of the day when the foot tends to be widest.

A child’s foot obviously changes with age, but as an adult, do not fall into the trap of assuming that one’s shoe size is static over time. Feet change with age, and shoes can differ from year to year in regards to sizing.

It is important to replace worn athletic shoes because a poorly supportive shoe can cause overuse problems, as well. There is no steadfast rule on when to replace running shoes, but they should certainly be replaced no later than after 500 miles of use. In fact, many experts would say that running shoes should be replaced long before reaching that type of mileage due to loss of the shoes’ shock absorbing capabilities.

This might seem like it goes without saying, but lastly, do not buy a shoe that is not comfortable when you try it on! Shop for track and field shoes at stores that cater to runners and track athletes, and take your time walking around the store to make sure it’s the right fit for your feet.

Step 2: Training Properly

Taking part in an appropriate training regimen is critical to avoid overuse injuries. Stretching before and after participation increases muscle contractility and diminishes the chance of acute muscle and/or tendon overload. In addition, warming up before a competition improves overall muscle efficiency.

Warm up activities will vary for different events. For example, middle- and long-distance runners need a different warm up regimen than sprinters. Because lower extremity muscles are vital in dissipating forces the body encounters during track events, proper muscle training is another important aspect of preparation for track and field athletes.

Appropriate training also involves gradually building up to desired goals. Strains and sprains are all too common in athletes who are overexerted too quickly. Environmental factors affect training, as well. For this reason, avoid exercising in extreme conditions of heat, cold and wind.

Step 3: Seeking Medical Attention

Finally, seek medical attention for injuries that do not quickly respond to simple modalities such as rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). Keep in mind that early and proper treatment of injuries can allow the athlete to get back to competition more quickly, as an appropriate diagnosis will direct him or her toward the most appropriate and effective treatment.

Certain diagnoses such as chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS) and stress fractures of the fifth metatarsal respond better to surgical intervention, and recognizing these types of situations early will greatly facilitate treatment for injured track and field athletes. Athletes should also consider that, although rare, persistent extremity pain that does not resolve in a timely fashion can be a sign of a more serious disorder.

If you are a track and field athlete in need of medical attention for an injury, please schedule an appointment with Raleigh Orthopaedic or call us at 919-719-5600.

Dr. David Boone IMG_26443 Good luck this season, and stay safe!

David W. Boone, M.D.