Preventing and Treating These 5 Common Running Injuries

How to treat and prevent common running injuries

Whether you’re an experienced runner or are new to running, it’s likely that sooner or later you will experience some form of injury. According to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Sports Rehabilitation, between 60 and 70 percent of runners suffer from at least one serious sports injury per year. 

These sports injuries can range from stress fractures of the foot bones or tibia to more common injuries involving the plantar fascia, the knee joint, a quadriceps muscle strain and varying forms of tendinitis. The reason why running injuries are so common is that the biomechanics of running involve high impact repetitive motion that can easily lead to overuse injuries if you don’t follow the right form or if you overdo it. 

This doesn’t mean that you need to be discouraged. By understanding how the most common running injuries occur, you can modify your running program to become better at injury prevention. And if you do get hurt, we’ll review how to treat the most common running injuries. 

About 30 to 40 percent of all runners will develop at least one of the following five most common running injuries. Obviously, most involve the lower leg and, most commonly injured is the knee. Let’s take a closer look at each one of these.

5 Most Common Running Injuries

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis Treatment, Plantar Fasciist and Baseball

What it is: The most common foot injuries from running that we see involve over-doing it. Plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury characterized by micro-tearing of the connective tissue on the bottom of the foot. It’s caused by the repetitive impact of your foot on the ground.

How it’s treated: Treating plantar fasciitis is challenging because our everyday life involves a fair amount of standing. That said, we encourage patients to rest their foot as much as possible and also provide foot and toe stretching exercises (such as kneading the sole of your foot with a ball). In addition, we might tape the injured foot, prescribe the use of compression socks and proper footwear to spread the pressure of weight-bearing more evenly throughout the bottom of the foot.  

Achilles Tendinitis

Achillies Pain, Foot Awareness Month

What it is: Your Achilles is a thick tendon that attaches one of your calf muscles to the back of your heel bone that plays a major role in the push-off phase of your running motion. That is why overuse Achilles injuries are most common in sprint or hill runners. Patients present complaining of sore calves after running, with pain extending to where the Achilles tendon attaches to the prominent bump in the back of their heel bone.

How it’s treated: Icing and rest will help with Achilles pain during the initial phase of injury. Later it’s important to promote strength, flexibility and balance of the tendon and calf muscles. Performing toe to wall Achilles stretches will improve flexibility and calf raises will help build strength.

IT Band Syndrome

What it is: The second most common runner’s injury involves the IT Band, which is short for iliotibial band: a band of fibrous tissue that supports the outer side of your knee. Too much stress placed on the IT band can lead to muscular imbalances resulting in outer knee pain and instability of the lower leg.

How it’s treated: By strengthening the muscles responsible for leg stability, namely your glutes and lateral hip muscles. It’s also important to improve your balance with, for example, leg raises, foam rolling, lunges and bridge exercises. And finally, to building strength and flexibility through activities such as strength training, yoga and Pilates.

Shin Splints

What is it: Many folks who are new to running or returning to it after a long break experience the nagging pain of shin splints (technically known as medial tibial stress syndrome). These are essentially micro-tears of the muscles that attach to your shin bone.

How it’s treated: If the shin splints are due to overtraining, then the only way to treat them is through rest. Not to do so will only result in further injury. A way to prevent shin splints is by improving flexibility in your calf, hips, ankles and, believe it or not, in your big toe! This will cause your leg to move correctly during running and by adopting better form, you may prevent future injury.

Runner’s Knee

Runner knee, Common Running Injuries

What it is: Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, this injury affects about 30% of runners and is an irritation of the joint where your thigh bone (femur) meets your kneecap (patella). It is caused by several factors having to do with strength, flexibility, and soft tissue mobility, to name a few.

How it’s treated: By resetting the relationship between the femur and the patella, we can help reduce the joint stress leading to this knee pain. This involves strengthening and stretching the muscles around your knee, such as the quads, hamstrings, glutes and hip rotator muscles.

Is running when you’re injured safe?

Every runner knows how addictive running can be and, for the inveterate runner, a day without strapping on the running shoes can elicit anything from mental anguish to plain old grumpiness. We get it. And so, we advise our patients that what determines whether or not it is safe to continue running while injured is the severity of your injury. This is where the rubber meets the road.

Some sports doctors use a pain scale to determine your level of injury based on how badly you hurt on a scale of one to ten. Of course, this only works if you are perfectly honest about how much you’re hurting. To be dishonest with us and, more importantly, with yourself would be counterproductive and very possibly lead to more injury.

While there are other variables that are taken into consideration when advising injured patients whether it’s prudent to continue running, and it’s important to note that every patient is different, generally speaking, here are some activity guidelines based on pain levels:

  • Pain level 1 to 2: it’s generally okay to train through if you proceed with caution and your best judgment
  • Pain levels 3 through 6: consider shifting gears and doing cross-training to give your injured area a break
  • Pain level of 7 and above: requires you to rest to allow the tissues to heal

It’s important to note that these are general guidelines and just like each individual is unique, each injury is unique as well, so it’s best to get examined by a professional who can give the most suitable advice for your particular situation.

How to prevent running injuries

Of course, in an ideal world, no runner would ever be injured, and we could all run to our hearts’ content without sustaining an injury. While I don’t have a magic wand to make that wish come true, I can give you some tips for preventing training errors that can lead to running injuries. Here goes:

Get expert advice

If you’re injured, seek out a podiatrist, sports medicine doctor, or physical therapist who can examine you properly and diagnose and treat your injury. So many common running injuries are self-inflicted from improper training, overdoing the intensity and duration of exercise, or a change in running shoes or terrain. Talking about your running habits with a doctor or therapist can shed light on your mistakes so that they can help you correct them.

Although personal trainers and running coaches aren’t qualified to diagnose and treat running injuries, they can certainly provide advice regarding sensible training schedules, tips on posture and appropriate terrain, plus other variables that may help to keep you injury-free.

Start low and go slow!

How many times haven’t you heard this piece of advice? Running coaches agree that the easiest way to avoid running injuries in new runners is to increase your speed and distance at a pace that’s comfortable for you. The rule of thumb is to increase your mileage by no more than 10% per week.

While I know that this can be a frustrating approach for the competitive “take the hill” personality types, honestly, it’s the best way to avoid injuries and setbacks. But better to make gradual progress than to have to stop running due to injury.

Invest in the right footwear

The importance of taking the time to figure out what type of running shoes are best suited for you can’t be overstated enough. So many injuries that we see could have been prevented if only the person knew enough to get the right shoe for their anatomy and running style.

Finding the right running shoes

While this article can’t substitute for a personal consultation with a podiatrist, generally speaking, you want to look for a stiff running shoe with good arch support that doesn’t bend easily in the mid-arch. Also important is a well-cushioned footbed that distributes your body weight evenly across the sole of your foot. Lastly, you need to wear a running shoe that corrects postural problems like pronation (rolling inward of the foot) in order to avoid abnormal wear on your ankle joint.

And, if you only take one piece of advice, let it be this: please, please don’t run in ratty worn out shoes! You should be replacing your runners when they begin to look worn out, typically between 300 to 500 miles, depending on your weight and the intensity of your foot pounding. Old runners can’t provide sufficient support to your foot, leaving you at risk for injury.

Build-in recovery time between runs

I don’t need to tell you that running isn’t the only cardio exercise out there 😉 In fact, every coach will tell you that cross-training is the key to becoming better in your chosen sport because your body benefits from strengthening other muscles and building stamina.

Taking a break from running to cross-train in something entirely different like biking or riding an elliptical, swimming laps or surfing, will allow you to continue to benefit from cardiovascular exercise while giving the body parts used in running a rest.

Two excellent disciplines to build strength while avoiding overuse injuries are Pilates and yoga. They’re also great for improving your balance and muscle tone, both of which will help with your running form. And who doesn’t want that?

Finally, it’s important to build in an exercise free rest day every now and then to give your body time to repair micro-injuries caused by sustained exercise. As tough as this sound for those of us who use running as a way to decrease stress and support our mental health, our body needs to recuperate.

Consider being in nature, meditating or journaling on your rest day. Look at your day off from exercise as a day of nurturing and tending to your soul body. You’ll go back to your sport with a new appreciation for it and a fresh outlook 😉

Why choose University Foot and Ankle Institute to treat your foot and ankle pain?

If you’re experiencing any foot conditions, we’re here to help. Our nationally recognized foot and ankle specialists offer the most advanced podiatric care and the highest success rates in the nation. We are leaders in researching, diagnosing, and treating metatarsalgia. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (877) 736-6001 or make your online appointment now.

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