If you’re a runner, then I’m sure you’ve already come to the conclusion that this type of exercise can become addictive. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting your heart rate up, feeling the breeze, observing the world as you run by, feeling accomplished when you run that extra mile you just didn’t have the energy to run the day before. That’s why running injuries are one of the biggest fears and nightmares for most of (if not all) of the runners out there.
There are some injuries that are more common than others. In this article I’ll go over a list of 7, describing what they are, what they’re caused by and how to prevent them.
Common Running Injuries
1. Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar Fasciitis is most commonly described as the pain you feel in your heel after the first few steps in the morning or a period of rest/not-walking. It is caused by micro-tears to your plantar fascia (the ligament that connects the toes to the heel bone), which cause inflammation and pain.
There are a number of risk factors that can cause Plantar Fasciitis. It can be anything from excessive overweight, wearing inappropriate and/or worn out shoes, standing for long periods of time, an increase in exercise or rolling in of the foot (overpronating).
It normally develops slowly, from mild discomfort to feeling like your heel is being stabbed with the hot iron. And it also doesn’t go away overnight. In most cases, a lot of effort is invested in treating it, but it can still take from 6 to 18 months to completely recover from it.
When it comes to treating Plantar Fasciitis, you can consider anything from home remedies and medical treatments to surgery in very rare cases. Most people with Plantar Fasciitis (runners and non-runners) use mainly home remedies (massages, investing in good shoes, footwear or orthotic insoles, icing, rest, etc.) and medical treatments (anti-inflammatories). There are, of course, more aggressive options, such as shock-wave therapy and corticosteroid injections for when the home remedies and anti-inflammatories don’t work, or even surgery as a last resort, when everything else fails.
2. Achilles Tendinitis
Another injury that’s fairly common among runners is the so-called Achilles Tendinitis. This one appears mainly due to over usage of Achilles tendon, which is the tissue that connects your heel to your calf muscles and lower leg and is used when walking, jumping or running. This condition usually manifests as pain in the back part of the leg or just above the heel.
It’s most common amongst runners you suddenly increased the intensity of their running sessions, or among middle-aged people who occasionally do sports like basketball or tennis.There are many risk factors, such as sex, age, flat feet, obesity, running up-hill, cold weather, etc., that contribute to this injury.
In case you’re struggling with your own case of Achilles Tendinitis, there are a number of things you can do on your own.
The first recommendation is to rest, ice and elevate the leg to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Also, make sure you decrease the intensity of your running sessions and that you’re using appropriate footwear or insoles. Since this condition is, in fact, an inflammation, you can opt for taking anti-inflammatories to help you deal with the pain, do strengthening exercises and even consider corticosteroid injections.
The last resort when treating Achilles Tendinitis is surgery, which is normally considered after a period of 6 months(approximately) try a combination of other non-surgery treatments. However, if you rupture your tendon (you’ll notice a sudden, very intense pain, and maybe even hear a pop), surgery is something that needs to be done immediately.
3. Runner’s Knee
If at some point you find yourself dealing with knee pain, chances are you have the Runner’s Knee. It’s yet another very common injury among runners and it can be very painful and even lead to permanent damage if not treated correctly.
The “usual” way runners experience this injury is as pain in around the kneecap, when bending or straightening the knee, when walking downhill or downstairs, swelling and a popping feeling in the knee. This can be caused by anything from overusing the knee, direct trauma, misalignment of the bones, feet issues or weak muscles.
The good news is there are many things you can do about this condition, and they’re pretty standard. You should rest, ice and elevate the knee, and try to use compression (like elastic bands) to start with. If you have flat feet or your feet roll inwards when you walk, you could consider purchasing orthotic insoles for your shoes. You should also do as many strengthening exercises for your quadriceps (thigh muscles) as possible to relieve the stress from your knees.
In case the pain is too severe, you can consider taking anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, and if all of this doesn’t work and you’ve tried everything you could think of and was recommended to you by experts, you are most likely a candidate for having the surgery to see what is the cartilage condition of your knee and if the kneecap should be moved.
4. Shin Splints
Shin Splits are the nightmare many runners are dealing with – according to Wikipedia, between 13% and 17% of injuries related to running are Shin Splits. They manifest as pain along the inner side of the tibia (lower leg, between the knee and the ankle), which can gradually increase during exercise.
When trying to figure out what exactly caused your Shin Splits, there are 4 possible causes you should consider: muscle overuse, resulting in irritation and swelling, small breaks in the lower leg bone, also called stress fractures, overpronation (rolling the feet inwards when walking, making the arch collapse) and weakness in your hips and core muscles.
To treat this condition there are quite a few things you can try to deal with the pain. Of course, the first thing you should do is rest and ice your shins, so the body can relax and the pain and swelling ease. If you’re not quite happy with the results, you can invest into some good orthotic insoles made to help you to keep your feet in their most correct and natural position.
In case the pain is just too much, you can take anti-inflammatory medicine, just make sure to consult with your doctor before you do that and especially if you want to be taking the drugs for a longer period of time. You can also do some range-of-motion exercises or even consider going to physical therapy.
In very rare situations, surgery might be necessary, but most of Shin Splits cases recover on their own by using a combination of the aforementioned treatment options.
5. Iliotibial Band Syndrome
If you feel pain in your knee, but it doesn’t fit with the Runner’s Knee description, what you might be struggling with is the Iliotibial Band Syndrome.
It is, in essence, an inflammation of the tissue that connects your pelvis to your tibia, which is the reason the pain on the upper lateral part of your knee that might extend all the way up to your hip. The inflammation has different possible causes – anything from not warming up properly to running on the tilted surface, running up or downhill, weak hip muscles, having high or low arches, and a lot more (you can find more causes here).
If you have Iliotibial Band Syndrome, there are a number of things you can do on your own. The first thing you should do is the so-called R.I.C.E. – rest, ice, compress, elevate. This will give your body time to heal and reduce the inflammation (less inflammation = less pain). You can also massage the pain area (using a foam roller or maybe even going to a professional) and make stretching exercises.
Since it’s an inflammation, you can consider taking anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Make sure you consult with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re planning on taking the drugs on a regular basis and don’t rely only on them. Their positive effect is on the pain, not on the condition, so you should always continue with other treatment options as well.
Should all of this fail, there are two medical treatments you can consider. The first one are corticosteroids injection to the point of inflammation, or in very rare cases, a surgery to remove the inflammation.
6. Stress Fracture
This very common running injury consists of small fractures that can happen on your foot and ankle, most often on the longest and thinnest bones in your foot. If not treated they can be very dangerous since they can result in the bone breaking completely, so make sure you see a doctor if you suspect you might have one.
They’re mainly caused by overuse – repeating the same movement, increasing the exercise intensity, a change in the surface (treadmill vs. running outdoors), as well as using inappropriate and/or worn-out shoes, lack of Vitamin D, osteoporosis or wrong technique when running.
But how can you tell if you have a stress fracture? Normally, the symptoms are very straightforward – pain that increases during exercise and diminishes when resting, swelling, tenderness to touch over the fracture and sometimes even bruising.
If you think you have a stress fracture, immediately stop exercising and make an appointment with your doctor. Give your body time to rest and heal by resting, icing the point of pain, compressing the foot or ankle, and elevating the foot. You can also take anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen or naproxen) to help you deal with the pain and invest in a good pair of shoes to protect your foot.
Depending on the seriousness of your fracture, the doctor might want you to use crutches to stay off your foot or ankle completely, or in rare cases even suggest surgery insert a pin, screw or plates to support your bones and help them heal correctly.
These annoying little bubbles that are caused by friction while walking or running are something I’m sure you’re familiar with, whether you’re a runner or not. They can be painful and if big can really limit your movements and affect the way you walk or run.
When you walk in shoes that don’t quite fit, have foot conditions such as bunions, heel spurs or hammertoes or run or walk in humid and hot conditions, can cause friction to your skin and the body’s natural response is to produce fluid under the point of friction, resulting in a blister. They can be big or small, but regardless of the size, they should be always treated with the utmost respect!
To avoid having blisters you can wear blister-free socks, moisten your feet, make sure your shoes and socks fit perfectly, or you can even cover your feet in Vaseline or use Second Skin, both of which create a protection layer between your skin and your socks. All of these tricks will help keep the friction to its minimum and prevent the blisters from forming.
Usually, you can take care of your blisters by yourself. When it’s a small blister, that’s not too uncomfortable to bear, you can leave it be and your body will do the work for you. If your blisters are bigger, then all you need is a sterilized needle, clean hands, and a clean surface. Pearce the blister very carefully and drain the liquid. Then put on a bandage and you’re good to go. Just remember to change the bandage frequently, so there’s less risk of infection.
Injuries – The Runner’s Nightmare
Unfortunately, all of the above injuries can happen to anyone, regardless if you’re just beginning with your morning jogs or have been running every day for years. Don’t feel overconfident and don’t get reckless – these injuries can quite literally knock you off your feet for months at a time.
These 7 most common injuries can be very limiting, and if there’s anything good about them is that there are treatment options that you can do on your own, without having to see your doctor. There are, of course, always exceptions to this rule, but with a bit of luck, you won’t have to get to the most invasive alternatives to address your injury.
In the end, what’s most important is that you always pay attention to what your body is telling you and always do your best to take care of it. You only have one, and without proper treatment, you can risk serious and long-lasting conditions. And I can’t imagine any runner wanting that.