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Common Running Injuries – Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

For those who love to run, it’s more than just putting one foot in front of the other. It helps people push through mental boundaries as they achieve new personal bests.

But there comes a time in every runner’s career where they’ll inevitably get injured. We all know that the last thing any runner wants is an injury that forces them to take a running hiatus.

However, there are injuries that can lead to a runner having to give their running shoes a long-term break.

Let’s take a look at the most common running injuries, causes, treatments, and how to prevent them!

Why are injuries in running common?

High-Impact Exercise

Research has shown that 80 percent of injuries that runners experience are due to the repetitive stress of your foot strike. Running is a high-impact exercise, and your feet, knees and hips are most affected by the force of motion.

While running shoes are designed to absorb the impact of your foot strike, your feet are still absorbing a force nearly three times your body weight. Over time, this can lead to overuse or repetitive stress injuries.

High Body Weight

Runners who have a higher body weight will experience more pressure on their joints than those with less.

More stress on the joints means they’re more prone to getting injured and also take longer to heal.

Beginner’s Running Economy

Running economy is the measure of how a runner uses their energy as they run. If you’re an experienced runner, you’ve probably fallen into a running pattern without even thinking about it, because your body knows how best to utilize its energy for the run.

New runners don’t have the intuitive knowledge of how to expend their energy yet. This can lead to them taking off too fast, or running for too long and not being able to recover properly, or overexerting themselves, which can lead to injury.

Wrong/Old Shoes

Modern running shoes do a great job of protecting your feet from injury, but they don’t last forever, and not every shoe will be right for your feet. Old shoes, or shoes that provide the wrong kind of support or cushioning, can be a short-cut to injury.

Interesting facts about running injuries

When considering running injuries, there are some interesting facts you may not know. Learning about these can help you understand how and why certain running injuries happen, and you can do your best to avoid them.

  • Around 40 percent of running injuries are to the knee.
  • 13 percent of runners had knee pain within the last year.
  • 11 percent of runners suffer from Achilles tendonitis.
  • 10 to 15 percent of runners suffer from IT band problems.
  • 5 to 10 percent of runners have had a stress fracture.
  • Most common to least common areas injured:
      • Knees
      • Feet
      • Upper legs
      • Lower legs
      • Lower back
      • Ankles
      • Hips, pelvis, and groin

Common Running Injuries

Runner’s knee

What is it?

Runner’s knee is a general term that’s used to describe pain around and behind the kneecap. It’s also known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome.

The pain is caused when the cartilage of the kneecap—patella—rubs up against the femoral trochlea. The constant rubbing leads to irritation and inflammation.

Cause

Runner’s knee could be due to a structural defect, or the issue could be with the way your muscles function during the repetitive running movement.

You may not realize it while you’re running or walking, but overpronation can cause runners’ knees, as the thigh muscles pull the kneecap outward while your feet roll in.

If you have weak thigh muscles, glutes, and hips, this can lead to runner’s knee. Everybody’s knees are different, and some people have a kneecap that sits high above the knee joint.

Another possible cause of runner’s knee is tight hamstrings and Achilles’ tendons, excessive training, or a different injury to the knee.

Wearing shoes that don’t provide adequate foot support can also lead to runner’s knee.

Recovery

If your knee starts to hurt while you’re training, stop immediately and avoid high impact activities for a few days. Apply ice to the area, as this will help to reduce the inflammation.

You can treat the injured knee by taking an anti-inflammatory and letting the joint rest. If you’re lying down, you may want to put a pillow behind the knee to provide additional support and reduce irritation when the leg moves.

While your knee is healing, try to avoid going down stairs or downhill, and take it easy. Give your knee some time to heal and for the inflammation to go down. This may mean that you don’t run for a few days. During this time, you can switch to active recovery training that’s low impact and doesn’t put stress on the knee. Swimming or training on the elliptical are good options.

Prevention

To help prevent runner’s knee, you can start by incorporating strength training that will allow you to strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus. Make sure that you’re warming up and stretching after exercising, working your way from your calves up to the hip flexors.

Knowing whether you overpronate is also important, as it can dictate the right kind of shoe to wear. Diagnosing whether you overpronate is a simple matter of having someone watch your stride. Head to a running store and ask them to have a look. If you are overpronating, you should probably wear stability shoes that are designed to provide support for overpronators.

After 400 and 600 miles, your shoes almost certainly need replacing. Old shoes are not going to provide the cushioning and support your body needs when walking or running. Refresh your shoes and see if the pain goes away.

If you’re still experiencing pain in the knee area after you’ve tried the above, then it would be wise to seek medical attention or even physical therapy to prevent any further injury from happening.

Achilles Tendonitis

What is it?

When there’s inflammation in the Achilles tendon, runners may experience a dull pain above their back ankle, have noticeable swelling of the Achilles tendon, or notice that their range of motion is limited when they flex their foot upwards towards their shin.

They may also experience pain every time their foot hits the ground, when running up stairs, or when they need to make a sudden change of direction.

Cause

An inflamed Achilles tendon can be the result of excessive training, especially running up hills or climbing stairs. It can also be triggered if a runner has increased their weekly running mileage too quickly.

A runner can also experience Achilles tendonitis if they have flat feet and overpronate, or if their calf muscles are really tight.

Poor running form, running in shoes that are overused, wearing the wrong shoe, or running on a different surface can all trigger Achilles tendonitis.

Recovery

It’s important to note that if you have any pain while exercising, you should stop immediately. To help alleviate the pain that comes with Achilles tendonitis, you can apply ice to the area several times a day and take an anti-inflammatory medication.

You can use a foam roller on your calves to help relax the muscles, and you should also include gentle stretching exercises for the calf muscles.

While your Achilles is healing, you can do active recovery exercises like aqua jogging or swimming. It’s only advisable to bike if you have no pain or discomfort.

If you’re still experiencing pain or it’s recurring, you should consult with your medical practitioner or physical therapist.

Prevention

Once there’s no pain, you can try to run with compression socks to help relieve tightness in the calves. And make sure that you’re getting the right support from your shoes. This could mean that you need to use insoles, heel lifts, or arch supports.

Avoid shoes that don’t offer arch support, like flip flops or high heels, as this can increase the tension in the Achilles tendon and calves.

Strengthen your calf muscles, as this will help both the Achilles tendons and calves deal with the repetitive stress of exercise. You can do this by alternating training days with low impact activities.

IT Band Syndrome

What is it?

Iliotibial Band Syndrome is a painful condition in which runners may notice a sharp pain on the outside of their leg when running or walking. The pain can get worse when you bend your knee, and it may be tender to the touch.

When you run, the iliotibial band can become extremely tight and rub against the thigh bone. This irritation creates pain.

Causes

There are a number of reasons that a runner may be experiencing IT Band Syndrome. Top of the list is incorrect training—going too far for too long—or training on surfaces that only slope to one side instead of training on a flat surface.

Physical conditions like knee arthritis, leg-length discrepancy, bowed legs and overpronation can also lead to runners experiencing IT Band Syndrome.

Recovery

If you’re experiencing IT Band Syndrome, you’ll need to stop running for a week or two. Take a look at your training schedule, as you’re going to have to give your body enough time to recover between workouts.

You may need to look at incorporating low-impact cross-training—like swimming—into your training regime.

Alternate between gently massaging and icing the affected area. You can take an anti-inflammatory, which will help to alleviate pain. Try to avoid activities like walking or cycling, as these can aggravate the IT band and make it worse.

If you have a foam roller, you can use that to help relax the IT band by working the outside of your legs. Make sure to stretch your hamstrings, thigh muscles, IT band and hip muscles often.

Prevention

Incorporating strength training into your training routine can strengthen the glutes and abductors. When you go running, make sure that you run on flat surfaces or alternate between each side of the road, and run with a shorter stride.

Not to beat this drum over and over again, but make sure you replace worn shoes regularly and that you wear shoes that are designed for your stride. If you can’t change your shoes, then look at getting an insole that provides support or cushioning, based on what your feet need.

Hamstring Injuries

What is it?

When you have a problem with your hamstring, you may experience sudden, excruciating pain in the back of your leg. Runners may also experience a popping feeling at the same time as the onset of pain.

Any movement that you make with the leg, like bending, straightening it, or trying to walk, will hurt. The pain can vary from tolerable to severe, and runners may notice that it’s tender to the touch or that there’s bruising.

Causes

Hamstring injuries can occur when the muscle is either too long or short, and if the hamstring is weak. Sometimes a weak hamstring is due to a muscle imbalance when your quadriceps is stronger than the rest of the upper leg muscles.

Runners may also experience a hamstring injury if the muscles or tendons are stretched beyond their limit. We normally see sprinters start to run with an explosive movement, only to stop very suddenly because they’ve injured their hamstring.

Hamstring injuries can happen to anyone, and can also happen even if you’re just walking.

Recovery

You’ll need to identify if you have a minor to moderate tear, or if you have a true pull. If you have severe pain with bruising, then it’s best to seek medical attention. Your doctor will be able to examine your hamstring and decide on the best course of action.

If you have a minor to moderate hamstring injury, rest will probably be enough.

Use a compression bandage and ice to help reduce the swelling, and keep your leg elevated when you’re lying down or sitting. You can massage the area, but try not to stretch the muscle unless your doctor recommended it.

Until the hamstring has healed, it’s best to practice active recovery like swimming, where the new activity won’t further strain the injured hamstring.

You’ll know that your hamstring has healed when you can walk without any pain on the injured leg. This is when you’ll be able to start training again. It’s best to train lightly for a while so that you don’t injure the leg again.

When you start training you may want to avoid uphill runs until you have strengthened your injured hamstrings.

Prevention

Before doing any physical activity, you need to make sure that you’ve warmed up properly and stretch after every training session. Massage the leg with a foam roller, as this will help to alleviate muscle stiffness.

As you rebuild the strength in your hamstring, you can start to integrate strength training exercises into your routine. You may find that one exercise will have you do a dynamic movement, and the next will be isometric holds.

Plantar Fasciitis

What is it?

Plantar fasciitis is when the thick band of tissue that connects the toe bones to the heel becomes inflamed. Runners may feel like their foot is bruised in the heel or the arch of the foot.

The pain can vary from severe to moderate, and the pain is often worse in the morning when you wake up. The pain can ease once the person starts to walk around.

Causes

Repetitive strain to the plantar fascia from excessive running or walking may cause the inflammation. Runners with unusually low or high arches are more susceptible to plantar fasciitis, as these foot types tend to stretch the plantar fascia away from the heel bone.

People who experience extreme supination or pronation will find that they’re vulnerable to plantar fasciitis, especially if they’re running in the wrong shoes, as they’ll have very little heel protection when they run.

Tight calves, hip flexors, and weak core change the way a person takes a step. This can also cause inflammation of the plantar fascia. While increased activity or an increase in mileage for a runner can lead to the condition, sometimes inflammation can happen without a reason.

Recovery

The plantar fascia doesn’t heal quickly, and it can take from 3 months to a year to heal completely. The best thing to do if you have plantar fasciitis is to make sure that your shoes have adequate support, as this will alleviate the pain and reduce the swelling.

Icing the bottom of your foot for 5 minutes at a time, 5 to 7 times a day will help to alleviate the pain and reduce swelling. Doing specific foot and calf stretches on a daily basis can help the foot to relax, increase blood circulation, and relieve tension in the calves.

Foam rollers are a great way to relax and stretch the calf muscles, which will also help to loosen the plantar fascia. To help alleviate the pain, you can use anti-inflammatories, or your doctor may give you a cortisone injection.

To make sure that all your shoes provide adequate support, you may have to get insoles that are designed to help with plantar fasciitis.

Prevention

Make sure that every shoe you put onto your foot has good arch and heel support, with or without insoles. You want to stretch your feet and calves daily, as this will help to keep the muscles and ligaments relaxed.

Ankle sprain

What is it?

When you twist your foot or your ankle rolls inwards, you stretch the ligaments around the ankle. This stretching of the ligaments will cause swelling and pain, and can sometimes limit the ankle’s range of motion. In some cases, you may not be able to put pressure on the foot at all.

Causes

While running, you may trip over an obstacle in the road or get your foot caught on a root if you’re running on a trail. This may cause your ankle to roll inwards, stretching or tearing the ligaments around the ankle.

You may even sprain your ankle when jumping or pivoting during an exercise, and this motion causes you to land awkwardly, which can lead to bruising of the ligaments.

Recovery

You should keep your ankle elevated, applying both a compression bandage and ice. Mild ankle sprains can take up to 3 weeks to heal, as long as you’re letting your ankle rest properly. If you have torn the ligaments of the ankle, then it could take between 3 and 6 months to heal.

To support the ankle and provide stability, you can wear an ankle brace and keep your foot elevated even if you’re at the office. This will help to reduce the swelling and the pain. You can also take an anti-inflammatory to help with the recovery process.

Once the swelling has gone down and there’s no more pain, you can start to do exercises that will help to restore the range of motion. Choose exercises that focus on flexibility, balance, and strength.

Prevention

Make sure you have shoes that provide heel support and that may offer better ankle support. When you’re running, try to avoid running on uneven surfaces or surfaces that have loose gravel or sand, especially in wet weather.

Use an exercise resistance band to do exercises like the elastic band push, to work on building up strength in the ankle.

Stress fractures

What is it?

A stress fracture is a small crack in a bone as a result of prolonged strain. They’re most common in shins, feet, and heels, as these bones take a lot of pressure when running.

This is one of the most severe injuries a runner can have. Although it’s only a crack, it’s still a broken bone.

Causes

Stress fractures are often caused by overtraining, and happen most frequently in the first few years of beginning running. The feet don’t get to recover properly in between runs, and eventually, the stress is just too much for the bone.

Women are more susceptible to stress fractures than men, because of bone structure and estrogen levels.

Recovery and Treatment

Many of the running injuries on this list can be treated effectively at home. A stress fracture is different. Don’t try to DIY a diagnosis or treatment if you suspect you have a stress fracture. They need to be properly rested in order to heal. You’ll need to rest for 8 to 16 weeks, depending on where the fracture is and how much physical therapy you can do to strengthen it. If you go back to running or doing hard exercise too early, you may never heal properly.

You can do other low-impact cross-training activities during this time, also known as active recovery. Swimming, biking, aqua jogging or even slow-walking are good exercises to start. You can begin with walking, and then jog slowly for a few minutes to work your way back up to running.

Prevention

If you’ve never had a stress fracture, you may be able to avoid getting one if you pay attention to certain things while you’re running.

When you’re going for a run, try to mix up the surfaces you run on so your feet aren’t hitting the same surface again and again.

Also, make sure you build up your mileage slowly. It’s a good idea to follow something like None to Run, where you get a specific distance each day and you can’t overdo it because they’ve done the research for you.

When you’re not actively running, eat a healthy diet and make sure you choose nutrient-dense foods that offer vitamins and minerals. Adding weight training to your exercise routine could be beneficial to strengthen muscles and provide better support for bones, ligaments and tendons.

The Wired Runner