Running is one of the best fitness activities you can do for your body. It also gives your body a beating unlike any other endurance sport. Most runners have experienced some kind of injury, whether it is a minor muscle strain or chronic knee pain. Mention Achilles tendinopathy or plantar fasciitis in a room full of runners, and you are sure to get plenty of knowing looks.
Fortunately, most running injuries are treatable with rest, rehabilitation, and careful management.
Many running injuries result from running too much too fast. Try to take a day off in between runs and build up your running time slowly. Consider alternating running with other activities (cross-training), such as weight training, biking, swimming, or exercise machines, such as an elliptical trainer. Mixing up your running routine with other exercises will reduce the risk of an overuse injury.
If you become injured, it is important to deal with it and treat it—even if that means cutting back or taking time off from running. Try and maintain fitness during down times when you have pain or get injured. Learn about alternate aerobic exercises you can do to stay in the game until your injury is fully healed.
Whether you are just starting out or have running experience, take some time to familiarize yourself with common injuries and how to prevent them.
Shin splints occur when the tissue that connects the lower leg muscles to the lining of the tibia becomes irritated and inflamed. They are especially common in beginning and young runners. Changing the surface you run on (from indoor surfaces to pavement), running on a tight circular track, and changes in intensity or frequency can lead to shin splints. You can also get shin splints if you have flat feet, rigid arches, or are wearing worn out athletic shoes.
To treat shin splints, ice the sore area for up to 20 minutes at a time. Place a towel between the ice pack and your skin. You should be pain free when you walk before trying to go back to running. When you do run again, build up slowly. Consider a new pair of running shoes. Run on soft or shock-absorbing surfaces. Do not jump back into the same routine you had before your injury.
In running, these are usually chronic overuse injuries. Most runners experience either lateral pain or patellar pain. Knee injuries can be caused by improper running form, wearing the wrong athletic shoes, or running too much when your body is not ready. You can help prevent knee injuries by doing stretching and strengthening exercises for the hip and thigh areas, slowly building up your running time, and using proper form.
Most knee injuries can be treated with rest and ice. Do not start running until your knee pain is gone and you get clearance to start again from your doctor. Avoid activities that include jumping, twisting, pivoting, or climbing. If your knee pain does not improve with rest and ice, you may have a more serious injury. It may require further investigation, treatment, and/or physical therapy.
Many runners have fairly tight hamstrings, which puts them at risk for pulls and tears. If you have hamstring pain, rest and ice will be your first line of treatment. After the pain has resolved, perform strengthening and stretching exercises and ease back into activity as tolerated. Then you will need to strengthen the hamstrings.
Tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendon, while tendinosis involves microtears without inflammation. Although tendonitis is a less common injury than tendinosis, both can sideline your running game. Common causes are overuse, poor running technique and problems with the foot or ankle (like poor flexibility). Be aware that worn out, ill-fitting athletic shoes can contribute to these injuries.
Treatment involves icing and resting the tendon. Recovery often involves a stretching program or physical therapy. Do not start running again until you are cleared by your doctor.
Some runners get tightness and pain in their lower backs. This, like most running injuries, can be caused by the wrong or worn out shoes or incorrect form. Try strengthening your core muscles (back and abdominal muscles) and stretching your lower back. Consider changing to a softer running surface or alternating your running with other activities.
Many experts suggest that running injuries often result from wearing the wrong athletic shoes. While lacing up the right pair of shoes will not turn you into a superstar, it could save you pain and suffering down the road.
The goal is to find a shoe that allows you a neutral foot strike. If you tend to overpronate or oversupinate, you want to find a shoe that helps you back to the neutral position. Go to a store that specializes in running shoes. They will look at how you run and analyze the wear on your old running shoes. From there, they should be able to suggest a running shoe that is right for you.
If you are an active runner, remember to change your athletic shoes every 400-500 miles. Finally, buy shoes in the evening when your feet are at their biggest. Too-tight shoes can be painful.
Running does not have to hurt. While it is true that the more you run, the more at risk you are for injury, some runners do manage to avoid getting hobbled by pain.
Develop running habits that keep you injury free.
American College of Sports Medicine
American Council on Exercise
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada Healthy Living
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Athletic shoes. OrthoInfo—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00318. Updated August 2012. Accessed January 18, 2016.
Basic knee prevention. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/articles/2012/01/10/basic-knee-injury-prevention. Updated October 7, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2017.
Hamstring strain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116919/Hamstring-strain. Updated June 6, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2017.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116002/Patellofemoral-pain-syndrome. Updated August 31, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2017.
Runners: How to prevent low back pain. Spine Health website. Available at: http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/sports-and-spine-injuries/runners-how-prevent-low-back-pain. Published February 27, 2008. Accessed January 18, 2017.
Selecting and effectively using running shoes. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/selecting-and-effectively-using-running-shoes.pdf. Published 2011. Accessed January 18, 2017.
Shin pain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115559/Shin-pain. Updated March 23, 2015. Accessed January 18, 2017.
Last reviewed January 2017 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.