Running is one of the most common forms of exercise and also one of the easiest ways to injure yourself, even if you’re doing it right. From beginners to seasoned experts, injuries are a serious problem that can hinder or even totally halt any running activity, depending on their severity. I’m here to make you aware of the most (but by no means the only) common running injuries you can get and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.
The Most Common Running Injuries
Inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is a band of tissue that connects the heel to the toes, that causes pain when walking or running. Generally caused by repetitive stretching and tearing of the tissue, which happens during running.
Runner’s knee (Patellofemoral pain syndrome)
Irritation of the kneecap due to the stress of running, often due to weak muscles that can’t support the kneecap and cause the leg to turn inward or outward out of proper alignment.
Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome)
Pain along the tibia, or the shin, often occurring after an intensified running routine. This condition is caused by repetitive stress on the shinbone and connective tissues surrounding it and can sometimes lead to stress fractures.
IT band syndrome
More inflammation! This condition is related to the iliotibial band, the ligament that runs down the outside of the thigh from the hip to the shin, and is caused by any repetitive activity that causes the leg to turn inward repeatedly.
We’ve all had a moment of terror after rolling an ankle, fearing the potential of a sprain. Sprained ankles are caused by just that, an awkward twist or roll of the ankle that forces the ligaments beyond their usual range of motion. This condition can range in severity from just needing an ice pack to requiring crutches over a period of a few weeks.
Inflammation of the Achilles tendon, usually caused by sudden increased intensity or duration of running activity. If you’re someone who doesn’t run often and then suddenly participates in a high-intensity activity, you may be at risk for Achilles tendinitis.
Almost everyone has experienced the burning, pinching pain of a blister at least once in their lives. These are, in the context of running, generally caused by undue friction on the same patch of skin over a period of time, causing fluid to build up under the surface of your skin.
Injury Prevention Methods
If you’re new to running or are starting a new running routine or program, start out slowly. Don’t push yourself past your limits, even though all of the “fitspo” crap out there tells you that’s how to succeed. You’ll succeed, all right, but it’ll be in injuring yourself and possibly preventing yourself from running for a while. Even seasoned runners can fall victim to common injuries, so don’t land yourself on bed rest because you had something to prove.
Diversify Your Workouts
In addition to starting slowly, Janeen Hellenbrand, physical therapist and sports medicine expert, says “research shows that an active/functional warm-up routine prior to activity is more effective than static stretching.”
Hellenbrand also advises to keep “a consistent strength training and flexibility program…to challenge your body in multiple planes with cross/strength training.” Low impact workouts, like swimming and cycling, are great for incorporating into your regular strengthening program.
Take Care of Your Shoes
Keep your shoes in good shape, and get new ones when they wear out. Don’t risk your health on bad shoes. Some of these conditions may seem minor, but if exacerbated, you may be injured beyond full repair and unable to run for the rest of your life. Make sure the shoes you’re using are right for your running style and your feet; if they put uncomfortable pressure on your feet, rub on your Achilles or aren’t wide enough, put them back. Don’t buy shoes just because they’re cool, expensive or someone else told you to. Do your own research and try on multiple pairs before you buy.
Run on Softer Terrain
Run less on the track and more off the beaten path. Natural ground, like grass and even graveled or unpaved dirt, is the best surface to run on. Get off the sidewalk and into the fields (or forests) to spare your joints the harsh impact of unmalleable ground. There are plenty of local and national parks with running trails winding through them. Human beings were made to run, especially long distance, over actual ground and not artificial surfaces, so do our biology proud and keep on the grass.
Use Proper Running Form
Proper running form is just as important to preventing injuries as anything else we’ve talked about. Hellenbrand gave us four simple steps to good form: “good posture, proper arm swing, ideal cadence (180-190 steps per minutes) and foot strike directly beneath the hips on contact.” She warns that “improper running form can contribute to imbalances and overuse of some muscles, leading to common injuries such as Achilles tendinopathy, knee pain and IT band syndrome.”
None of these preventative measures are a perfect guarantee against injury; you might fall, get your foot caught in a hole and trip or just get hurt through repeated use of your leg muscles and ligaments. However, these measures are good guidelines for self-care and training routine adjustments that will hopefully set you up for safer running.
The bottom line is to pay attention to your body. If something hurts, don’t push it. Take a rest-day (or two), and if that doesn’t solve your problem, see a doctor as soon as you can. If you’re hopelessly devoted to fitness and can’t handle a day without exercise, use low impact exercises and stretches to sate your addiction, but if your doctor says no exercise, then don’t exercise.
Mayo Clinic: Plantar Fasciitis
Mayo Clinic: Achilles Tendinitis
Runner’s World: IT Band Syndrome
Runner’s World: Runner’s Knee
Mayo Clinic: Shin Splints
Mayo Clinic: Sprained Ankle
Mayo Clinic: First Aid – Blisters