It’s no secret that runner’s get injured. Time and time again we get injured. We dread it, actually. We might have to take a break, after all. We fear losing fitness or gaining weight. We have to wait to get our next “fix,” our endorphins start running on empty. We start going stir-crazy. Out for a day, a week or two, months. Physical therapy, medical bills, grueling recovery and sometimes persistent pain. You’re healed, then you’re not, then you have to start all over again.
We come and go with injuries. Other runners understand, support us when we are down and welcome us back when we are feeling better. Some get injured more than others – the first year I started running, it seemed like people were dropping like flies all around me with aches and pains. Then, one day, I had shin splints – much to my amazement since I had no pain for months – and I vividly remember when I “got my first running injury.” Patellofemoral Syndrome. That made me a real runner, right? Yeah, right. I also remembered the days when I ran injury-free. Those were the days. But, injury makes you stronger, makes you appreciate the good times when they do come.
While it didn’t make me a real runner, somehow I had entered a new chapter of running. Things were different for me. I had to think about things, slow down [even more], pay more attention to my body than I ever had, and say ‘No’ even when I wanted to run with all of my heart.
Speaking from experience, I think a lot of new runners start to worry about their own health when they see or hear about the people the run with getting hurt. I know I did. “Do I have that?” “Wait, how would I even know if I had that?” “What is that?”
Below is a list of common running injuries, some common symptoms and what you can do to help prevent a reoccurring problem. Running injuries can affect anyone for a variety of reasons, but I have included some information about who these problems tend to affect most commonly. These are simply guidelines to give you an idea of what injuries exist, particularity to runners, and what causes them. I felt much better about my own injury once I was more informed. Runner’s World and Active.com also provide additional and easily accessed information about injury prevention, treatment and symptoms. Most importantly, you should also contact your physician or sports doctor as a first-line of defense for injury prevention and appropriate treatment.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (a.k.a Runner’s Knee):
What: Pain, stiffness and sometimes grinding around the kneecap. For many, pain is particularly noticeable going up and down stairs, sitting and standing, and/or getting in and out of a vehicle.
Who: Women who run a 10-minute-per-mile pace or slower.
Why: Ideally, your kneecap glides smoothly in the groove at the end of your femur or thighbone (the femoral groove). However, because women have more flexible joints and a more extreme angle from hip to knee (Q angle) than men, their kneecaps are more likely to fall out of alignment. Pain intensifies at slower speeds because the knee goes through less range of motion, putting more demand on a smaller area of the joint. Prevention: Strengthen your quads, hamstrings, and glutes with squats and lunges to stabilize your kneecaps and help keep the pelvis level while you run. Rest is one of the first treatment steps to reduce the pain and severity of patellofemoral pain and runner’s knee. Reduce your mileage or turn to non-impact exercise, such as swimming, to keep your fitness level while allowing your knees to heal. The latest information about patellofemoral pain syndrome points the focus on strengthening the hips to get the kneecap to track correctly.
Others at Risk: Runners who over pronate, have flat feet or high arches.
Iliotibial-Band (IT Band) Syndrome:
What: Inflammation in the band of fibers that runs along the outside of the knee to the top of the shin.
Who: Women with a higher BMI (Body Mass Index) who do a weekly long run of two hours or more and run hills often.
Why: Extra body weight puts a heavier load on the hips and more pressure on the IT band. Long runs fatigue the muscles that help stabilize women’s hips. The hips sag more than normal on each step, straining the band. During a hill workout, the knee stays bent longer, which also increases tension to the IT Band.
Prevention: Strengthen the muscles around the IT band with leg walking (loop a resistance band around both ankles and walk sideways in one direction, then the other). You can also use a foam roller to loosen the band.
Others at Risk: People who run on slanted surfaces; runners with leg-length discrepancies.
What: Inflammation of the tissue along the bottom of the foot that’s usually worst first thing in the morning.
Who: Men over 40 who have a family history of the injury.
Why: The make-up of the tissue in the plantar fascia is stiffer in men and gets less flexible with age. Some experts believe Plantar Fasciitis could be a genetic condition, although it can affect anyone, even on-athletes.
Prevention: The fascia tightens overnight, so stretch your calves before getting out of bed (straighten your legs; flex your toes). Strengthen your calves with toe raises eccentric heel drops.
Others at Risk: People who wear shoes that lack good arch support (flip-flops, ballet shoes) and pregnant women.
What: Tenderness in your lower calf near your heel that usually strikes when you push off with your toes.
Who: Men with higher BMI who run a 9 minute-per-mile pace or faster.
Why: The Achilles absorbs several times your body weight with each stride. A faster pace and additional body weight put even more stress on this tendon.
Prevention: Strengthen your calf muscles (with your toes on a step, lower and raise your heels). Stretch your calves (keep your heel on the ground, lift your toes back toward your shin).
Others at Risk: People who regularly run hills (the Achilles has to stretch more on inclines) and who have increased their mileage more than 10 percent per week (sudden increases in mileage strain the tendon).
Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (a.k.a Shin Splints)
What: Pain and soreness along the inside front of the lower leg.
Who: Runners whose feet roll inward excessively (overpronate).
Why: The posterior tibial tendon, the connective tissue that gets sore with shin splints, runs into the arch of the foot. If your feet roll inward, this tendon has to work extra hard to counteract that motion.
Prevention: Get fitted for and wear motion-control shoes. Strengthen your calves (hold dumbbells while doing toe raises). If you’ve had daily shin pain for longer than a month, see a doctor for a bone scan to rule out a stress fracture.
Others at Risk: Beginning runners; people who train on slanted surfaces; women who wear high heels.
What: Pain in the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shinbone.
Who:Men with a higher BMI or who have a history of playing basketball and have suddenly increased their weekly mileage.
Why:The patellar tendon helps your leg extend during running or jumping, but that repeated motion can create small tears in the tendon. After years of activity and then a sudden increase in mileage, your body may struggle to repair those tears. Extra body weight may contribute to the injury.
Prevention:You can do squats to strengthen the patellar tendon and stretch your quads and hamstrings. Avoid increasing mileage by more than 10 percent per week. Stick to your training plan! It is there to help you stay injury free.
Others At Risk: Runners with a history or tendon problems and overpronators.
In the quest for the ultimate performance, there is a tendency to overdo things and cross the fine line between peak fitness and injury. As runners, we do get injured and as human beings, we often think we can self-diagnose ourselves or figure out what the problem is based on the experience of others.
While many athletes can manage their own pain and rehab program (especially with prior experience!), ideally you need to contact a physician or physical therapist not only to get a proper diagnosis, but to learn the latest treatment options and learn how to perform the exercises correctly. Depending upon your diagnosis, there may be additional strengthening and stretching exercises you will need to add to your routine.
Even though it may seem like it, an injury is not the end of the world – or your training. Stick to your plan, become informed, take care of your body with proper nutrition and hydration and take time to rest too. Rest is an important component to any training plan to allow your muscles and tendons to repair and keep you running injury-free.
Until the next mile marker,