While mild running-related pain may be a normal part of training, failure to address a minor running injury today could lead to a major injury down the road. Before you hit the pavement again, learn which injuries affect runners the most, how to spot and treat them, and steps you can take to avoid them.
How to spot the top five running injuries
- Shin splints. If you feel pain in the inner part of your tibia (the larger bone in your lower leg), it's likely shin splints. Shin splints happens when the muscles, tendons and bone tissue around the tibia become inflamed. This injury typically affects new runners or runners who are training too hard too fast. Other causes are wearing improper running shoes, flat feet and high arches.
- Runner's knee. A dull pain in the front of your knee when you run could be runner's knee. Defined as general pain in the front of the knee and around the kneecap, runner's knee is usually caused by overuse (running too far too soon or running too many days without rest). Other causes include running regularly on hard surfaces like asphalt, wearing improper running shoes, or having a misaligned kneecap.
- Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome. Unlike runner's knee, IT band syndrome (ITBS) causes pain on the outside of the knee. The IT band is a ligament that runs down the outside of each leg from the hip to the top of the tibia. It stabilizes the knee, helping it bend and extend. ITBS occurs when the ligament becomes tight or swollen and rubs against the femur (the bone in your upper leg). Anything that causes your leg to turn inward can cause ITBS, including excessive downhill running, always running on the same side of the road or in the same direction on a track, or wearing improper running shoes. Overuse can also cause ITBS.
- Achilles tendinitis. If you feel pain or have swelling at the back of your heel or in the area between your calf muscle and foot, you could have Achilles tendinitis. This is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which runs down the back of your leg and connects your calf muscle to your heel bone. Achilles tendinitis is often an overuse injury, but tight calf muscles can also be a cause.
- Plantar fasciitis. Pain on the bottom of your foot near the heel could be plantar fasciitis. The pain may be present first thing in the morning when you get out of bed but then go away after you start your day. It will then return with greater intensity after you finish a run. Causes include overuse and having tight calf muscles or high arches.
How to treat running injuries
If you have pain that makes it uncomfortable to run, try applying the RICE method first. RICE is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. This should help reduce inflammation and promote healing. Taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen can also help.
If the pain is still bothering you after a day or two of rest, you may need to see your doctor to rule out a more serious injury such as a stress fracture. If the pain is unbearable or makes it impossible to run, see your doctor immediately.
How to avoid running injuries
These tips may help you avoid a running injury:
- Always warm up and stretch before you run.
- Incorporate strength exercises into your training plan. Strong core muscles, hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves will help stability and alignment problems.
- Use a foam roller to massage and loosen tight muscles.
- Get fitted for the right running shoe for your feet.
- Replace your running shoes roughly every 400 miles or if the soles look well worn.
- Consider orthotics if you have flat feet or high arches.
- Slowly increase your mileage and rest well between long runs.
- Change up your direction and running surface frequently.
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Need assistance with a running injury? Learn more about our regional destination: The Christ Hospital Joint & Spine Center, and how our experts can help.