Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=141601
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Jesse Curti/MEDILL

Runners cross the finish line at the Bucktown 5k Sunday.


Most injured runners avoid the doctor

by Jesse Curti
Oct 08, 2009


When Dan Buehring, 23, ran in this week’s Bucktown 5K, he thought about the painful shin splints he’d recently recovered from.
“It was just really painful to run,” the River North resident said, but he didn’t seek medical attention.

“I just ran through the pain,” Buehring said. “It was highly non-effective.”

Buehring’s behavior is common among runners.

Dr. Matthew Matava, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Washington University in St. Louis, estimates that only 30 to 40 percent of injured runners seek medical help. He said he understands why so many runners fail to seek treatment.

"I've been running and the [endorphin high] phenomenon is real," he said. "If I didn't increase my mileage, I didn't get the same feeling."

Matava said runners may crave these feel-good chemicals created by running, but they need to pay attention to injuries.

"If you're not better, you should see someone," he said.

Another reason many avoid treatment is that they might not know they're hurt.

Dr. David Geier, spokesman for the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, said runners mainly suffer overuse injuries.

"Overuse injuries [shin splints, tendonitis] occur over time and you can never say that's when it started," he said. "Whereas traumatic injuries [broken bones, concussions] football players suffer are specific episodes, such as one tackle."

With 45,000 runners expected for Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, the sport’s popularity is apparent, with the expected outcome.

"Total injuries are going up because more people are getting involved in running,” Matava said.

Dr. Sabrina Strickland, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery, said these numbers are driven almost entirely by Generation Y.

"Seventy percent of runners are from the 18-29 age group," she said. “Older people tend to do lower impact sports.”

There are ways to prevent injuries.

Better awareness about stretching before running and improved footware technology have helped keep runners keep healthy, Matava said.

In addition to stretching, eating well and getting plenty of rest, Geier suggested runners pay extra attention to the way they exercise.

"When you change your training regimen, go slow to give your body time to adjust. Increase your load 10 percent at a time."