Between training for a marathon or a form of stress management, running is loved by many and is considered to be a staple when it comes to working out. And, not to mention, it’s free to get started.
But running has its downsides, too. There are a variety of muscles that work together while running and, the more muscles you use, the more vulnerable you are to injury.
The honest truth is that runners are bound to experience a wide array of injuries. From the tiny muscles in your feet to the large muscles of the hip and lower back, it’s likely that you’ll feel the effects of even a light run.
So why do running injuries happen in the first place? They tend to happen as a result of repetitive stress. A lot of miles equals a lot of stress, and the more you run the more stress your body will take. These are what we call “overuse” or chronic injuries. And though a sudden, or “acute,” injury can happen, it’s far less common in runners.
Whether you’re new to running or training for an Ironman competition, it’s important to have a basic idea of the injuries you might face. We’ll start by introducing some of the most common injuries in runners followed by some practical tips to prevent them from occurring.
8 Most Common Injuries in Runners
1. Runner’s Knee
A medical professional might call this Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, but it’s been coined “Runner’s Knee” since it’s frequently seen in runners.
One of the most common injuries in runners, those with Runner’s knee will complain of dull pain in the front of their knee. Pain typically worsens with:
Going up or down a set of stairs
Sitting for long periods of time
Runner’s knee is a direct result of the kneecap being restricted from normal movement. This leads to excess pressure one on side of the knee and tension on the other.
There are a few things that can make you more susceptible to this injury. Among those things, weak hip or thigh muscles, flat feet, and tight calf muscles seem to be the leading culprits.
2. Achilles Tendinitis
The Achilles tendon connects the heel to the calf muscles. With a sudden increase in mileage or running intensity, this tendon becomes inflamed and irritated. This is known as Achilles tendinitis.
Symptoms may include dull pain and swelling over the Achilles tendon, limited ankle range of motion, and a warm feeling over the tendon.
Note that if left untreated, Achilles tendinitis can progress to a rupture of the tendon.
3. IT Band Syndrome
Along the outside of the leg is where you can find your IT band. Formally known as the iliotibial band, it is a long piece of tissue that runs from your hip to your knee. It is responsible for stabilizing the knee while running.
IT band syndrome is a result of repetitive friction of the tissue against the leg bone (or the femur). This friction is associated with:
Tight IT band
Weak gluteal muscles
Weak abdominal muscles
Weak hip muscles
Runners with this injury will complain of sharp pain above the knee that increases when bent and tenderness to touch.
4. Shin Splints
There seems to be a common denominator amongst running injuries – formal names. Shin splints are also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS).
The tibia is the large bone in your lower leg. When you increase your running volume too quickly, this area becomes inflamed. This inflammation most often causes a dull pain along the front of that bone that worsens with exercise. Along with that, there may be mild swelling and tenderness to touch.
Shin splints typically go away with rest and decreased running intensity. However, left untreated they can progress to stress fractures.
5. Stress Fractures
A common overuse injury, a stress fracture is a hairline crack in a bone. It is a direct result of repetitive stress or impact – and running fits that mold quite well.
Symptoms associated with a stress fracture include pain that develops over time and is felt at rest. There may also be swelling, bruising, or tenderness over the fracture.
In runners, stress fractures occur most often in the foot, heel, or lower leg (tibia). They typically require an x-ray to diagnose and take 6-8 weeks to heal.
6. Hamstring Strain
Your hamstring is responsible for slowing down your lower leg as your leg swings back when you run. When your hamstrings are weak and tight, this can lead to injury.
Though it’s possible to get a sudden hamstring tear in long-distance runners, it’s more commonly seen in sprinters. Distance runners experience hamstring strains that come on slowly. The repeated small tears in the hamstring muscle eventually cause:
Dull pain in the back of the leg
Tenderness to touch
Weakness in hamstring
Stiffness in hamstring
7. Plantar Fasciitis
On the bottom of your foot is a band of tissue. This tissue is known as the plantar fascia and acts as a spring when walking and running. With repetitive stress, the tissue becomes inflamed. This is known as plantar fasciitis.
There are a few risk factors for developing plantar fasciitis. Increasing running volume too quickly is the most common cause. However, weak and tight calf muscles come in a close second as a risk factor.
Symptoms associated with plantar fasciitis include pain under the heel or midfoot that develops over time and is worse in the morning. The pain usually increases with extended activity, like a long run. Some may also experience a burning sensation on the bottom of the foot.
8. Ankle Sprain
When the ligaments of the ankle joint stretch beyond their normal limits, the result is an ankle sprain. This commonly happens when you take a wrong step and land on the outside of your foot. The ankle rolls under and stretches the ligaments that hold it together.
If you sprained your ankle, you may experience:
Limited ankle mobility
Tenderness to touch
Recovery from an ankle sprain ranges anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months depending on the severity of the sprain.
Other Injuries to Consider
Bursitis – Inflammation of the bursa that protects the hip joint from excessive friction during the running motion.
Ingrown toenails – Wearing a shoe that’s just a little too small? You may find yourself with an ingrown toenail due to your toenails being pressed up against the toe box of your shoe.
Meniscal tear – Though uncommon in runners as an overuse injury, taking the wrong step can land you with nagging pain deep in your knee joint. Meniscal tears are rips in the cartilage that protects the inside of your knee joint.
Calf strain – Often mistaken for Achilles Tendinitis, a calf strain presents similarly to that of a hamstring strain but in the calf muscle instead.
Exertional compartment syndrome – Your muscles expand with exercise and, when the tissue that surrounds them cannot support that expansion, it results in compartment syndrome. In this case, it is brought on by exercise.
Recommended Treatment for Running Injuries
The good news is most running-related injuries heal with rest and some modifications to your running program. Simply decreasing the mileage of your runs or taking it easy for a couple of days usually does the trick. Ice can also be used for pain relief.
For those lingering issues – which certainly aren't out of the question – physical therapy is the route most people see success with. The focus here is strengthening the muscles used for running as well as core stability exercises. These muscles include the hip, glutes, abs, and leg muscles.
How To Prevent Running Injuries
Is it possible to prevent running injuries? Absolutely.
Some of the best tips on how to prevent running injuries are no-brainers. These include making sure you warm up before a run, running with great form, and avoiding drastic changes in weekly mileage.
However, here are some industry secrets that you may not be aware of:
Stop running the same route every day. Not only is this boring, but it causes imbalances in your body.
Run from your core and hips to prevent overstriding.
Quit thinking that you can wear the same running shoes regardless of the terrain. *Also, be sure to replace your running shoes every 300-500 miles.
Add stability exercises into your strength workouts.
Consider cross-training to improve total cardiovascular endurance.
If you’re suffering from running-related pain or you’re looking for more personalized injury prevention when it comes to running, look no further than the experts at Myokinetix, an elite performance physical therapy clinic in Essex County, New Jersey. Call the doctors of physical therapy at Myokinetix to schedule your running analysis or physical therapy evaluation today!