Female Running Injuries: Sometimes looking good can take a toll!

August 05, 2011 Posted by Dr.Chang

Women athletes, especially those who run and do triathlons, are often told that they are more susceptible to certain lower extremity pain. But what are the unique qualities of the female physique and subsequent common injuries? This post will discuss lower extremity pain common among women due to musculo-skeletal characteristics, hormonal changes and even cultural factors. Below you will also find a few simple suggestions for reducing the risk of foot and ankle injuries. However, Ladies, injuries are cause by a variety of factors and treated in a variety of ways depending on your individual body type and list of activities. If you are experiencing foot and ankle pain, never hesitate to consult your local Charlottesville podiatrist for more information.

Female Musculo-Skeletal Factors in Injuries

There are a few factors that doctors consider when discussing female-specific injuries. Foremost, the angle that represents the relationship between the pelvis, leg and foot, referred to as the Q angle, is more dramatic in females because of women’s wider hips. Knowing this angle is important for athletes because repetitive and continual stress throughout the lower back, pelvis, hip, knee and ankle will often produce injuries in the lower part of the body, especially among women with wider Q angles. Determining whether your Q angle falls outside of the normal range may help in considering the causes of foot and ankle pain, not to mention pain in the lower back, pelvis and even the neck.  If you are concerned that your Q angle is affecting your running or causing foot and ankle pain, visit Dr. Murray and Dr. Chang for a professional assessment. They will be able to provide various suggestions, including fitting you with over the counter and custom orthotics.

Common running injuries due to a wide Q angle include patellofemoral pain syndrome or runner’s knee, iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, and shin splints. Women commonly feel pain from patellofemoral pain syndrome, otherwise known as runner’s knee, behind or around the kneecap. Runner’s knee has a range of causes – from over use, direct trauma or misalignment to flat feet. Women commonly are afflicted by runners knee due to a weak VMO muscle (vastus medialis oblique <<image>>), a muscle in the interior thigh. The good news is that it is easy to strengthen the VMO through knee extension and hip abduction exercises. Contact your Charlottesville or Waynesboro podiatrist to find the right exercise plan for you.

Iliotibial band syndrome is also a common injury found among female runners and triathletes. The IT band is made up of tissue that runs on the outside of the thigh, from the pelvis to just below the knee. While crucial to stability during activity, its continual abrasion against the top of the femur and the knee can make it inflamed, causing pain in the hip, thigh and/or knee. Often, using a foam roller can help runners prevent and heal sore IT bands. Stretching is a great preventative measure for IT band pain. Try standing straight up, and bending to the side as far down as is comfortable. Two sets of 15 repetitions on each side should work wonders. Hip flexor exercises can do the trick as well. Kneel on one knee and turn the torso until you feel a stretch on the IT band. Hold this for 5-10 seconds, and repeat 3 times on each side. Again, consult Dr. Murray and Dr. Chang or another licensed professional to design the appropriate workout for you.

Shin splints, known to doctors as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), result from too much force on the shinbone and the connective tissue attaching muscles to it. If you run, chances are that you’ve had the ‘splints. Studies show that up to 15% of running injuries are shin splints, and the advertisements in the back of running magazines are certainly a good testament to that fact. Shin splints are common among runners who have flat feet or over-pronate. In other cases they are caused by tightness in other various muscles and tendons (another good incentive to warming up and stretch!) and by increasing mileage too quickly. Try your best not to increase mileage more than 10% per week; especially with the female disposition to have diminished bone density, female runners are up to 3.5 times more likely than men to contract stress fractures from shin splints.

By far, the single most important to preventing shin splints, along with all of the Q-angle injuries mentioned above, is wearing properly fitted shoes and being attentive to when your shoes are worn out. Your local shoe dealers, Ragged Mountain Running, the Charlottesville Running Company and Richey and Co. Shoes, can all provide foot assessments and expert advice about properly fitting shoes.

Age and Hormone-Related Causes of Injuries

The female Q angle can take tolls on knees, ankles and feet of all ages. High school athletes have a high incidence of injuries to the ligaments in the knees, primarily the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL), because they tend to lack the lateral stability and endurance necessary for optimal performance and injury prevention. Some experts write that 30% of all ACL tears occur among high school females due to the Q-Angle of the female hip. Some helpful tips for ACL/MCL injury prevention among teens include not neglecting a 5-10 minute warm up, followed by stretching, planning for rest, and staying hydrated. High school athletes can also benefit from light to moderate lateral plyometrics such as lunges and squats, and even light weight lifting.

Female-specific hormones may have great effect on female runners throughout their lives. Hormones, such as relaxin, that women release during pregnancy lead to the relaxation of ligaments. Biologically, this allows for smoother births, but these hormones can affect ligaments in the feet, leading to arch pain, collapsed arches, plantar fasciitis and over pronation. While the jury is still out on the benefits of running during pregnancy, most experts agree that easy running in moderation can be helpful for second trimester moms who are runners, as long as it is balanced with enough time resting the feet and attentiveness to overheating and hear rate levels. Consult your obstetrician to determine a proper exercise routine during your pregnancy.

Not surprisingly, pregnancy may necessitate larger shoe sizes due to swelling. Ligament laxity may permanently increase shoe sizes or altered foot shape. Cramming a new foot size into old shoes too often results in foot and ankle pain. Contact your local shoe experts to determine whether your shoe size has changed, and what the best new fit might be – your feet are worth it!

And what about running injuries during menopause? The experts are still out on whether running correlates to an easier ride through menopause. However, the precaution about menopause often is that diminishing bone density resulting from hormonal changes can often lead to osteoporosis. Boosting the amount of calcium in your diet to between 1000-1500 mg before menopause is a good preventative measure to ward off post-menopausal osteoporosis, especially for female runners. Keeping running and strength training up can keep your bones strong, help prevent bone fractures and healthy circulation, not to mention running’s other physical and emotional benefits!

Other Causes of Female Injuries

In addition to biology, nurture, or cultural influences, may be factors in female injuries as well. High heels often lead to bunions, hammertoe, ingrown toenails, sesamoid injuries, Morton’s Neuroma, back pain and other problems. Remember that good-looking shoes are not exclusive of comfort. Consider buying shoes with arch support and room in the toe box from stores like Richey and Co. Shoes.

But high heels are not the only culprits of foot and ankle pain! If your running or athletic shoes do not fit or are worn out, you can likely injure your legs, ankles or feet. Be attentive to the wear in your shoes, and buy new athletic shoes frequently – according to your podiatric experts, Dr. Murray and Dr. Chang, the appropriate shoes will prevent a host of injuries!

Unfortunately, female athletes are particularly susceptible to eating disorders, and what doctors have come to know as the “Female Athlete Triad.” The triad is made up of an eating disorder and weight loss, amenorrhea (missed periods), and osteoporosis. Poor nutrition can lead to bone loss, decreased serum estrogen levels, psychological abnormalities, and, in extreme cases, death. Those who suffer from the Female Athlete Triad may experience fatigue, anemia, depression, decreased concentration, constipation, cold intolerance, and parotid gland enlargement seen in the cheeks. If this isn’t bad enough, the boneless can cause stress fractures that will not heal without proper nutrition and self-care.

Nurture your body! Healthy eating leads to strong bones and can keep you strong, fit and running your best. Balanced and healthy diets improve athletic performance, prevent osteoporosis, and aid in the healing of injuries. Consuming a target of 1000 mg of calcium per day, with sufficient Vitamin D for calcium absorption (which can either be derived from sunlight or regulated supplements), will help prevent stress fractures. Visit our page on bone healing for more information.

So, to all the female runners out there, stay strong and inspired, and remember that consulting your doctor, fully understanding the various causes of injuries and taking care of yourself will aid in injury prevention and healing.

Comment on this post to share your thoughts or contact Blue Ridge Foot and Ankle Clinic. We’d love to hear from you!

Blue Ridge Foot and Ankle Clinic
Charlottesville Podiatrist Location: 887 A Rio E Ct., Charlottesville VA, 22911 (434) 979-8116
Waynesboro Podiatrist Location: 417 S. Magnolia Waynesboro,VA 22980 540-949-5150

Blue Ridge Foot and Ankle Clinic has been a part of the Waynesboro and Charlottesville communities for over 20 years. Podiatrists Dr. Kevin Murray and Dr. Stewart Chang offer services in sports podiatry, foot and ankle problems and diabetic foot care. Our friendly, accommodating team of Certified Podiatric Medical Assistants look forward to welcoming you to our practice.


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