Running feels oh-so-good when your joints are limber, your pace is above average and a cool breeze dries off your sweat. Then…suddenly…it happens. You trip on a crack in the pavement and hurl towards the ground.
With loose gravel embedded in the palm of your hands and your knees bloodied with a bad case of road rash, you quickly look around to see who witnessed your Olympic-sized fall to the ground.
Ah—in luck—just the 10-year-old girl playing hopscotch in her driveway noticed your tumble. After smiling sheepishly and waving feebly at her, you survey the damage, quickly brush off the dirt, get up and limp back home. After all, it’s just one of the hazards of running—it should heal on its own, right?
Yes—running injuries usually heal without a trip to the doctor. However, a fall can sometimes bruise more than just your ego. That bruise on your knee could be something more serious. But how do you know when you should seek immediate medical attention—or just let nature run its course?
Whether you’re wincing, whining or writhing in pain, it’s not always easy to determine whether certain injuries should be treated right away.
We spoke to Ron Pick, D.O., a family physician at Mercy Clinic in Urbandale, Iowa. He treats minor injures at a walk-in family clinic and gives advice regarding injuries.
“Not all injuries require immediate medical attention, but if you’re questioning whether it’s an emergency, then you do need to seek medical attention,” says Pick. “A good rule is that if the pain is unbearable or gets worse—not better—than a trip to a clinic is recommended.”
How To Handle Common Running Injuries
Symptom/injury: Road rash due to fall
Treat it and wait it out: Cleanse the wound and clean out the debris thoroughly. If the injury is minimal and it stops bleeding after applying pressure, it should eventually heal and scab over a few days after the fall.
Seek immediate medical attention if… the injury is gaping open and won’t stop bleeding, is draining, wound is warm to touch, or there are red streaks coming from wound site.
Why? Red streaks and warmth may indicate blood poisoning or infection, which requires antibiotics. A wound that keeps bleeding may require stiches. And, if you haven’t had a tetanus booster shot within 10 years, it’s recommended you get one if you have any open wound injury.
Symptom/injury: Bruises, bump on the head
Treat it and wait it out: Putting ice on the wound may help. Although sore, and after turning a variety of colors, bruises typically heal on its own within a few weeks.
Seek immediate medical attention if… you hit your head hard on the pavement or you lose consciousness; or if a bruise becomes more swollen and red three days after the injury.
Why? It’s important to be evaluated in the ER right away to check for a concussion or internal head injuries. Bruises that form a hard lump (or hematoma) a few days later should be looked at by a doctor.
Symptom/injury: Leg cramps
Treat it and wait it out: Leg cramps or charlie horses occur because of overexertion of the calf muscles, fatigue, vitamin deficiency and dehydration. Usually fluids, rest, massage and stretching alleviates the symptoms.
Seek immediate medical attention if… you have persistent pain and swelling, warmth or redness in your calf.
Why? If you have calf pain, accompanied by shortness of breath, or chest pain, it may indicate a blood clot (also known as a deep vein thrombosis or ‘DVT’) and should be seen immediately in the ER.
Symptom/injury: Shortness of breath
Treat it and wait it out: Even though it feels like we’re dying after completing a grueling run, feeling winded and out of breath is normal. Walk slowly and put your arms above your head, to get the maximum amount of air into your lungs.
Seek immediate medical attention… if you feel like you can’t get a deep breath, or if it’s accompanied by lingering chest pain, even hours after your run.
Why? Any time you have lingering shortness of breath, severe chest pain lasting more than two minutes or longer, it may indicate a heart condition or exercise-induced asthma and should be evaluated immediately.
Symptom/injury: Dehydration symptoms—dizzy, weak, thirsty
Treat it and wait it out: It’s normal to feel weak and thirsty, especially in warm weather, even if you’ve drank your electrolyte replacement fluids and water.
Seek immediate medical attention if… you’re feeling confused, sluggish, nauseated, suffer from headaches and haven’t urinated in the past 12 hours.
Why? Dehydration can upset the electrolyte functioning in the body – which regulates your heart and other vital organs. It’s important to replace lost fluids intravenously to protect your organs.
Running Alone? Keep ICE Info
If you’re running alone and you have an emergency, make sure your ICE (in case of emergency) information is updated in your phone.
For iPhones, tap ‘medical ID,’ then edit to add your emergency contacts and health information. If you’re phone is locked, make sure to turn on the ‘show when locked’ button to make your medical ID available. On the screen, look for an emergency button at the bottom.
No problem. Even if you don’t run with your phone, there are a variety of devices to alert others about your medical conditions and emergency contact information. You can choose from medical ID bracelets, bands that attach to your shoes or to your running monitor devices, which contains your ICE contact information.