5 common running injuries (and how to help prevent them)
If you are new to running, it’s important to point out there are some common injuries that can strike, no matter how comprehensive your training program is. Slight aches and pains are part of the territory – so listen to your body and train smart. Sometimes a little rest can save you weeks of having to sit on the sidelines. I recommend people who are training for a running event, to factor in having to take a break for a week or two every few months due to injuries or sickness.
Almost every runner will experience an injury at some point. This next section outlines what some of the more common ones are and some tops of how to prevent them.
5 most common running injuries
Please note these pointers are a guide only. I always recommend seeking professional medical advice and diagnosis if you suspect you have an injury.
- Persistent ache or pain under the kneecap when you run
- Pain may build throughout a run and can linger after a lengthy running session
- Runner’s Knee can be aggravated by running downhill or walking down stairs
- Can be caused by a range of things such as weak quadriceps or hips, bio-mechanical flaws that place extra load on the knee, running on uneven surfaces or inappropriate footwear
- Don’t keep running if your knee continues to hurt
- Ice any inflammation and work with a physiotherapist on a program that is likely to include strengthening your glutes, quadriceps and hip muscles
- Cycling is low impact on the knees and can be a good option if you want to maintain your cardio base while doing rehab. It will also help strengthen your quads
- Pain in the shin area that is aggravated by running. It can range from slight tenderness to severe pain
- Usually occurs on the inside of the Tibia (shin)
- Very common in beginner runners or those who have returned to running after an extended break
- Often caused by over-training/sudden spike in running or inappropriate footwear
- Ice the painful area to treat any inflammation and reduce your running regime for a couple of weeks. From there, increase your mileage slowly
- Running on grass or softer surfaces can also help with shin splints as can checking that your running shoes are still providing adequate support and cushioning
Plantar Fasciitis – Runner’s Heel
- A pain in the heel sometimes described as if you are standing on a nail
- May also feel like a bruise
- Depending on the severity, the symptoms of Runner’s Heel may only be present first thing in the morning or may strike for the first few strides while you’re running
- Runner’s Heel is usually caused by over-training/sudden increase in running, inappropriate footwear or weak or tight ligaments
- Seek medical advice for a rehab program, which is likely to include stretching the arches of your foot and your calves with a foam roller, strengthening your calves and massage
- Recovery can take months and may be delayed if you persist in running
- Pain and possibly swelling in the Achilles tendon at the back of the lower leg
- Can be caused by over-training/sudden spike in running, especially hill work or sprint training, tight or weak calf muscles or inappropriate footwear
- Don’t try to run through this injury. Achilles injuries can take a long time to heal because there is little blood flow to the region. You will further prolong your recovery if you continue your training program
- You will need to be persistent with your rehab to recover as quick as possible
- Rest and ice the Achilles to relieve symptoms. Rehab work should focus on strengthening your calf muscles
IT Band Syndrome
- May feel like someone is stabbing you in the side of the knee
- ITB issues can also present as tightness and pain down the outside of your leg
- Can be caused by increasing your mileage too soon, running downhill, over-training/sudden spike in running, inappropriate footwear, running on the same side of a road that has a slight camber, which causes the hips to be slightly out of position
- ITB problems may also appear in people who have legs that are slightly different lengths
- If you ignore the symptoms of an ITB injury and continue running, the pain can literally stop you in your tracks
- Treatment can include stretching and using a foam roller on the IT Band and massage of the area (this can be horrendously sore!)
If you have pain that persists for more than a few days, or if the pain is severe, it’s time to seek medical help. Whatever you do, don’t put off going to see a physio. We all tend to try and ‘run it off’ or fail to make the time to treat our injuries, but pain is the body’s way of tell you something is NOT okay. Get it diagnosed early, get a treatment plan – and make sure you actually do the exercises prescribed – and chances are you’ll be back on track in no time. But leave an injury until it gets really sore, and you’re in for an unpleasant deep tissue massage and a lecture from the physio who will say “if you had come to see me sooner, it would not have been this bad”.
You can lessen the chance of suffering an injury and of being seriously hurt by doing the proper preparation, including a warm up and cool down. If you’re getting back into running after a break, don’t go too hard too soon – certainly don’t try to relive your high school glory days on legs that are 20 years older and have no conditioning. You may be able to reach your personal best again – but just give yourself time to build up your training – and increase your mileage and speed slowly. For more specific advice see our 10 week training plans for 10km or training plans for the 5k, designed to build up your fitness level over 10 weeks.