Drug-Free, Surgery-Free Pain Relief for Trail Runners?

A discussion about drug-free, surgery-free treatments for running injuries.

By on March 5, 2010 | Comments

How do you deal with running pain without resorting to drugs or surgery? We’re looking for options beyond the obvious such as rest, ice, and traditional physical therapy – an option that many, though probably not enough runners consider … or at least not soon enough. We’re look to hear what else you rely on to rid yourself of running induced pain!

  • Do you regularly get massage therapy?
  • Do you go the acupuncture route?
  • When the aches come on do you reach for an herbal salve?
  • Do you roll on some tape before your runs?
  • Do you get PT that works something seemingly unconnected to the injured spot?
  • How about putting magnets in your shoes?
  • Does some other drug-free, surgery-free treatment get rid of your pain and back on the trail?
  • What about any that you’ve tried that failed epically?

I had intended to publish a discussion piece along these lines in tandem with another story, but the concept has surrounded me of late so I figured it was time. iRunFar contributor Meghan Hicks has been getting chiropractic adjustments to relieve back tightness with success… despite her skepticism. I noticed Anton Krupicka has been getting acupuncture for his knee. I also recently learned that the key to getting rid of my plantar fasciitis long-term might reside with restrengthening the very distant gluteus medius.

KT Tape - plantar fasciitisWhat really drove home the possible validity of alternate therapies was my recent experience with KT Tape, a brand of kinesiology therapeutic tape. I’ve been wearing it for two months, but have never been sure whether it was helping my plantar fasciitis… and then I didn’t wear the tape for two and a half days last week. That lapse combined with a few easy miles was enough to irritate the fascia. All it took to end the irritation was to reapply KT Tape. A few hours later the irritation eased and I’ve been better since. (See my handy work to the right.)

Before the PF first came on last autumn I started mixing in some cycling. Oh boy, were did those cycling specific support muscles get sore! I tried Salus Muscle Relief Gel – a blend of arnica, capsaicin, aloe, menthol and essential oils – and was impressed with its light analgesic effect. That effect is not all that surprising considering the product is a “drug” in the US due to the inclusion of menthol and the claims made for the product.

That brings up the interesting point that many “herbal remedies” are drugs by another name. There’s no need to shun the products, but they often contain the same active ingredients or work based on the same biological or physiological principles as pharmaceuticals. Likewise, many “alternative” invasive or manipulative therapies bear likenesses to western therapies or bear similar risks.

As a finale, I feel it prudent to comment that I am neither anti-drug nor anti-surgery. There are surely times when pharmaceuticals (over the counter or prescription) or surgery are the prudent course of action to ease a runner’s pain. I occasionally take a short course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) to nip the recurrence of an old injury in the bud or to stop a new one in the tracks. I do not and would not recommend chronic use of NSAIDs as a crutch to keep running through pain. If you have a chronic problem, it’s time to treat the cause, not the symptom.

Feel free to respond to any of the comments I posed with your own experiences with drug-free, surgery-free running pain treatments? Also, feel free to comment on any of our later thoughts.

[Uuuuuh, I’m not a medical professional of any sort so none of the preceding should or can be perceived as medical advice. I’m just trying to start a conversation. Medical professionals of all sorts should feel free to chime in on their own behalves.]

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.