Common Runners' Injuries

In this article we list and describe various injuries that can be suffered by runners. We also discuss the causes of these common running injuries and provide tips on how you can avoid and even treat them.

Cause of Running Injuries

Body Weight:- The high-impact nature of running causes stress on the ankles, knees and hips. The intensity of impact depends on your body weight.

Poor biomechanics:- You need to pay special attention to your running gait. An improper running style or the wrong kind of shoes can lead to injuries. The proportion of your limbs with the rest of your body and your body weight will affect your running style. Your gait may change according to the type of shoes you wear or when you gain or lose weight. Therefore, you need to pay close attention to your running style and make adjustments if necessary. Inadequate flexibility, even to muscles that are not directly related to running, can lead to injuries. The important thing to remember is that your body is a well-connected machine, irrespective of what muscles you use during running.

Over training:- Overtraining is one of the most common causes of runner injuries. When your body’s tissues break down, it results in pain, inflammation and weakness. Increasing mileage beyond what your body can handle will put extra stress on the muscles and joints. The key is to increase mileage by not more than 10% a week. Cutting back by around 5% after a few weeks will give the muscles a chance to adapt well to training. If you happen to increase any other physical activity other than mileage, your body will still be vulnerable to injuries from overexertion. Another way of putting stress on the muscles is when you increase the intensity of your workouts, after you have been away from the sport for a while. If you jump straight into intense training sessions your muscles, tendons and joints won’t be able to cope with the stress. It is important to build a base level and then increase the intensity of your workouts. You could alternate by increasing mileage one week and workouts the next.

Lack of rest:- While your goal is to push your body to the limit, you need to allow your body time to repair any muscle tears caused by running.

Trauma:- Falling down and breaking a bone or twisting an ankle during a run is what is meant by the term ‘trauma injury’. Always put your safety first when choosing your run route. Don’t run in poor light over uneven surfaces, be wary of sudden changes in terrain and don’t take unnecessary risks.

The Most Common Running Injuries

Achilles Tendonitis:- Achilles tendonitis is one of the most common forms of tendonitis, where pain is felt in the Achilles tendon that connects the heel to the calf. Many runners suffer from this at some point during their career. The condition is caused by inflammation of the tendons. Most runners experience a dull aching sensation after a run, which can become more acute if left untreated. You may feel pain in the tendons in the morning just after you get out of bed and this pain may get worse during a run. Even when you are not working out, a dull pain may persist. Tendonitis is caused by running at an excessive speed and distance, hill training or use of poor equipment where the muscles are unable to cope with the stress. Wearing worn out shoes can also aggravate the condition.

Pain is usually concentrated around the ankle towards the back of the leg. To avoid this condition, it is essential to perform a series of warm up exercises before any intense training. Increasing mileage too fast will only exacerbate the condition. Tendonitis can be treated by placing an ice pack to reduce the swelling. You may need to take small doses of Ibuprofen and rest for a few days before getting back to running. However, it is essential to consult a doctor in order to pursue the right course of treatment or a physiotherapist to assess the situation. Avoid wearing shoes that are soft and too flexible for running. A heel pad may help alleviate the pain. While biking, lowering the seat could help reduce excess stretching of the calf muscles, however before making any adjustment, seek expert advice.

Patellar Tendonitis:- Running causes constant stress on the knee caps, which can be injured due to overtraining. Symptoms begin with a dull ache which gets worse after a run. It is important to treat the condition in order to avoid permanent damage. It may help to place ice packs on the area and stretch those muscles after every workout. The knee cap tends to wear down due to lack of flexibility of the calves, quadriceps and hamstrings. A foot or ankle problem from wearing excessively worn out shoes can also lead to patellar tendonitis. It is important to cut down on high intensity workouts during this period.

ITB – Iliotibial Band Syndrome:- The illotibial band is a thin band of fibrous tissue that runs down the outside of your thigh. It is a connective tissue that is attached to the Tensae Fascia Latae muscle, at the top of the thigh. At the bottom, it attaches to the lower leg bone or tibia and kneecap. Repetitive flexion and stress on the knee causes the ITB to become inflamed, resulting in hip and knee pain. Due to stress the ITB and Tensae Fascia Latea muscles shorten and tighten up, leading to excess swelling and pain. Among the major causes are poor running techniques, thigh muscle fatigue, weak gluteal muscles and quadriceps, and change of terrain or distance. Rest and ice packs are the two immediate forms of treatment, followed by heat packs after 48 hours. Applying a compressive bandage or elastic support will also help control the swelling.

Pulled Hamstring:- One of the most common sports injuries are hamstring injuries. The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located at the back of the thigh. These muscles allow us to bend or flex the knee. A pulled hamstring refers to strain on one or more of the muscles where the fibres could tear during running. The muscle fibres stretch when pulled, causing pain at the back of the thigh. Most often, a pulled hamstring occurs in the mid portion of the muscle. The condition could worsen if you continue to exert the muscles, before they are completely healed. Often, runners experience symptoms of a strain where the swelling is more pronounced. The initial treatment for a pulled hamstring is rest, ice packs, compression and elevation, a therapy known as RICE. A severe injury may cause difficulty walking, necessitating complete rest.

Stress Fracture:- Overtraining and repetitive stress can cause the outer layer of bone in the legs to crack. Increasing mileage at a rapid rate is the most common cause for stress fractures and it can be exacerbated by wearing inappropriate shoes. These fractures are localised and begin as a dull ache that runners often mistake for a sore muscle. Calcium supplements and adequate rest from your training schedule are the best ways to cure a stress fracture. Frequent stress fractures are an indicator that you are not allowing yourself adequate time to heal. In addition, you need to evaluate your shoes as you may require custom orthotics.

Shin Spints:- The shins undergo a lot of stress during running and overuse during training can cause tenderness of the tibia or shin bone and subsequent pain. Small tears in the leg muscle occur near the shin bone which stem from most athletic pursuits like walking and running. If ignored, shin splints can lead to stress fractures. The symptoms disappear with rest but may return as soon as you begin running again. It is important to get yourself examined professionally for poor biomechanics, if shin pain persists. Remember, shin splints usually result from excessive tightening of the calf muscles and wearing the wrong kind of shoes for the activity you are performing.

Shin splints are of two forms, posterior and anterior. Anterior shin splints cause pain due to the inflammation of the tendons that attach the front of the shin bone to the outside. Posterior shin splints result due to the inflammation of the tendons attached to the inner side of the shin bone. Ice packs after every run is the best way to relieve shin pain.

Plantar Fasciitis:- The plantar fascia is a very hard tendon that connects the heel to the ball of your foot. The tendon stretches out to absorb the impact of hitting the ground when running, which sometimes leads to an inflammation known as plantar fasciitis. Tightening of the calf muscles increases the stress on the tendon, causing pain while running or walking. Most runners experience a bruise at the bottom of the foot, which can become very painful if left untreated, especially in the morning when getting out of bed. Plantar fasciitis is often caused by poor biomechanics or overtraining. Stretching exercises for the calves and foot are important in the treatment process. To recover quickly, you will need to cut down on your training schedule or take a few days off for complete rest.

Avoiding Injuries

While many of the conditions above are relatively common amongst people who run regularly, most conditions are actually avoidable! Simply by being aware of the early signs and symptoms and responding by taking rest instead of "pushing through it" you can halt a niggle from turning into an injury.

Stop when it hurts:- Whilst this advice might sound like simple commonsense to the novice runner, taking head of this advice in practise can actually be particularly difficult for anyone training for a endurance event as this goes against the very thing that they are trained to do - to accept pain, to even embrace it! There is little wonder then, why so many seasoned runners have experienced most, if not all of these common running injuries.

The Importance of Warm Up:- With that said, never forget the importance of a sufficient warm up to get blood flowing, and to prepare the muscles for work. Recent research also shows that dynamic stretching is better than static stretching before exercise, but static stretches can also be included once the muscle are warm so can be done during your run (stop to stretch) or can be done at the conclusion of your run as part of your cool down routine.

Tips from the Experts:- For more reading, we have selected a number of books and DVDs from our online shop that focus on techniques you can employ right now to help you learn how to avoid injury from running. Scoll to the section "Related Shop Items" below.

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Created: June 2011
Revised: August 2011
Latest Feedback: August 2011