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Chasing Pain: The Injury Domino Effect

Posted on June 25 2012

Over the past several weeks I’ve had an interesting experience that I thought I’d share as I found it somewhat informative about the nature of running injuries.

I’ve been taking Taekwondo lessons with my kids since January (a story for another post), and I’ve come to realize that in most ways Taekwondo has been a fantastic supplement to my running. However, the workouts can get pretty intense on occasion, and about a month ago we did a drill that involved doing rapid fire roundhouse kicks against a pad, three sets of twenty reps on each leg. It was a killer workout, and the next day I noticed that what felt like a case of medial tibial stress syndrome had set in on my right leg.

Over the next week, I noticed that following the appearance of the MTS, my left knee was hurting during my runs. My suspicion is that I was compensating for the medial tibial stress pain in some way that was messing with my opposite side knee. The knee would calm down once I was warmed up, and I found that by exaggerating a forefoot strike on the left side I could reduce the knee discomfort over the first mile while I got loosened up.

Sure enough, shortly after the knee pain appeared I started to feel left heel pain both during runs and in the mornings. I’ve had some left heel pain off and on for quite a long time, but it has never really progressed beyond minor discomfort in the mornings and often it goes away and I don’t notice it at all. It sounds like a classic case of plantar fasciitis, but it seems to be more linked to tightness in my soleus muscles (another story for another post!). Exaggerating a forefoot strike does a number on the soleus!

Anyway, as of about a week ago the right side medial tibial stress resolved itself, my knee no longer hurts, and the heel pain seems to have reverted to it’s normal first “few steps in the morning until my calves stretch out” type of annoyance.

So what’s the point here? I guess it would be that compensatory behaviors in your running form can lead to pain appearing in places distant from the original injury source. In my case, medial tibial stress triggered by a Taekwondo workout initiated a domino effect through my opposite side knee to the opposite side heel during my runs. But, once the source of the problem healed, the other problems went away. Just goes to show that the source of the pain is not always the source of an injury!

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