When you first begin running, everything feels sore afterward — your side, legs, arms, buttocks. But, once you’ve been running for a while, you’ve conditioned your body to adjust to running for long — or longer — periods of time. Rather than exclusively facing the mental battle of needing to stop and walk for a while, you can shift your focus on your breathing or running at a faster pace.
While it can feel really good to see yourself making progress, it can be equally disheartening if you’re suddenly experiencing pain while running. What causes it? And, what can you do to prevent an injury from occurring?
The 9 Most Common Running Injuries
1. Runner’s Knee
What is it? Typically considered an umbrella term for any pain in the front of your knee, runner’s knee can range from mild to severe pain. But, this pain is typically caused by weaknesses in the hips or feet, or by increasing your running distance too quickly, so you shouldn’t ignore it or try to run through the pain. Symptoms include pain that worsens with movement, swelling, stiffness after extended periods of rest, a limited range of motion, and/or hearing a cracking sound when getting up.
How can it be prevented? Since runner’s knee can be caused by weaknesses in the hips or feet, you should include strength training exercises in your routine. If your pain is caused by tackling long distances too quickly — such as when you join a local running group and feel like you need to keep up with them — you should limit the distance you run, and gradually work your way up to longer distances over time.
How’s it treated? Runner’s knee is mostly treated with rest and ice. You may also find that a knee brace can help compress and support your knees during runs — especially if you have pre-existing knee problems or often experience knee pain. Once you’ve relieved the pain and discomfort, you should focus on strength training to prevent future injury.
2. Pulled Hamstring
What is it? Hamstrings are the muscles in the upper part of your leg. They allow the knee joint to flex, so when you’ve pulled a hamstring, you may feel excessive tightness in your knee and the back of your thigh. This typically occurs when you’re running too fast, running under fatigue, or other muscles have failed. Pain can range from acute to severe. Symptoms include a popping feeling at the time of injury, pain in the back of the thigh that worsens when bending over, and tenderness.
How can it be prevented? To prevent pulling a hamstring, you should make sure to stretch before any exercise. If you’re training for a race, listen to your body to acknowledge when you may be pushing yourself too hard. If you have trouble recognizing your body’s signs of fatigue, use a heart rate monitor to track your effort and allow your body to run at a slower pace if you see a continuous spike of more than 95 beats per minute (bpm).
How’s it treated? If you’re experiencing acute pain, avoid sprinting or speed exercises until you’ve healed. Start with gentle isometrics to relieve pain. If your pulled hamstring is more severe, you should visit an orthopedic walk-in clinic to get a treatment plan to help you return to full motion. Note that while your hamstring may feel better, you could re-aggravate it. It’s best to give yourself a full six to eight weeks to heal before doing any intense speed exercises — starting with slower speeds or exercises and working your way back up.
3. Shin Splints
What is it? Shin splints — as their name implies — occur along the shin bone or front portion of your leg. It can be a shooting pain or a general tightness. Pain can often radiate up to the knee, and the severity of your pain can vary. People often experience shin splints due to a poor choice of footwear, the environment in which they run, or because their legs are not accustomed to the stress of running yet.
How can it be prevented? To prevent shin splints, make sure you exercise before running — focusing on the calves and legs — and wear proper running shoes. If you’ve had your shoes for a while, it may be time to get a new pair that will fully support your feet and legs and reduce the impact when you’re running. The best way to ensure you’re wearing adequate footwear is to do a gait analysis at a running specialty store. Knowledgeable staff will record you while you run on a treadmill to look at your running form. Some stores will also have you stand on a sensor mat to look at how you distribute your body weight on your feet. Based on this study, they will recommend the best type of shoe specifically for you.
How’s it treated? If you experience shin splints, you should avoid running and rest. Even standing or walking can sometimes aggravate the injury, so the best thing for your shins is to give yourself time to recover. Anti-inflammatories can often help reduce the pain. If your pain is severe — especially after a day or two of resting — visit an orthopedic walk-in clinic to get a treatment plan that will treat and prevent future injuries. You can learn different exercises that may be more effective for your body.
4. Plantar Fasciitis
What is it? The plantar fascia is the thick band of tissue in the bottom of your foot that extends from the heel to the toes. When inflammation impacts the plantar fascia, this can cause plantar fasciitis. This inflammation is often caused by tight calf muscles or a high arch. Symptoms include feeling a stabbing pain near the heel — with the pain feeling worse after running.
How can it be prevented? To prevent inflammation of the plantar fascia, you should include calf stretches in your stretching routine and make sure you wear supportive shoes — even when you aren’t running. This will provide optimal support for your arches and feet.
How’s it treated? In most cases, plantar fasciitis can be resolved with rest and icing your feet. If the pain persists or if you’re continuously experiencing issues, you should visit an orthopedic walk-in clinic to get a treatment plan that fits your lifestyle. A physical therapist can help identify what exercises are better suited for your lifestyle and feet.
5. Ankle Sprain
What is it? While stretching can help prevent a variety of injuries, sudden stretching or tearing of ligaments can lead to an ankle sprain. This occurs when the foot twists or rolls inward. For runners, this mostly happens when running through uneven terrain or occurs when fatigue causes a person to trip over their own feet. Symptoms include a popping sensation at the time of injury, restricted range of motion, swelling, bruising, and pain when you put your body weight on the affected foot.
How can it be prevented? Stretching before running can help support ankle flexibility, but the best way to prevent an ankle sprain is to run on a flat surface — such as a track or treadmill. Some running shoes can also provide added support for your ankles and help prevent sprains.
How’s it treated? The best way to treat your ankle sprain is with rest, ice, compression, and elevation — also known as RICE. Depending on the severity of your sprain, it can take a couple of days to weeks for an ankle to heal completely. You should avoid running until your ankle heals completely.
6. Piriformis Syndrome
What is it? If you experience a burning pain in your buttocks, this could be caused by piriformis syndrome. This is a neuromuscular disorder that is caused when the sciatic nerve is compressed. Piriformis syndrome can often be confused with sciatica or lower-back problems. Additional symptoms include pain that radiates down the back of your legs, pain when walking on inclines or going upstairs, and a reduced range of motion of the hip joint.
How can it be prevented? Stretching and strength training exercises can help prevent sciatic nerve compression. If you have a career that requires you to sit for long periods of time, make sure to take breaks to stretch and walk around.
How’s it treated? Depending on the severity of your pain, strengthening exercises for the hips and core can help relieve pressure off the nerve. If you have a career that requires you to sit for long periods of time, you should visit a sports medicine physician to get an exercise plan that works with your schedule. In some severe cases, you may also need surgery.
7. Achilles Tendonitis
What is it? Achilles tendonitis can occur when your ankle isn’t getting enough movement. This can cause the cord-like portion of your Achilles to become sore, and you’ll feel a sharp pain in your calf. The pain can be caused by inflammation, but in some severe cases, it can also be associated with degeneration of the tendon from poor usage. Symptoms include pain along the Achilles tendon and/or heel, stiffness of the ankle joint, and a limited range of motion.
How can it be prevented? Heavy-loaded eccentric exercises can help prevent injuries. Any exercise where you have to lower yourself on one leg and remain balanced can help strengthen your Achilles and reduce your risk of tendonitis. Include these types of exercises in your strength training and make sure to stretch thoroughly before working out.
How’s it treated? If you have Achilles tendonitis, you should visit a physical therapist immediately. They’ll be able to create an exercise routine for your pain, and a physician can determine if the pain is caused by inflammation or something more serious — like degeneration.
8. Stress Fracture
What is it? A stress fracture is a hairline break on a bone — typically on the feet or ankles. Although they may be caused by an underlying medical condition that weakens the bones — such as osteoporosis — they can also be caused by repetitive activities, such as running. Symptoms include acute pain whenever you start running, tenderness, swelling, and skin that feels warm to the touch. A telltale sign is that the pain diminishes when you’re resting.
How can it be prevented? The best way to prevent stress fractures is to increase the speed and intensity of your runs gradually. Keep most of your runs at a conversational pace. If you’re a beginner, your main priority should be to run consistently, to get your body used to the movement. If you’re an experienced runner, increase the distance by no more than 10% to 20% each week. Also, increase your vitamin D intake to increase bone density.
How is it treated? Stress fractures require that you take time off running to fully heal and — depending on the severity of the injury — this may mean taking several months off. If you think you may have a stress fracture, you should visit an orthopedic walk-in clinic immediately. You’ll likely be given a boot or crutches to keep your injured foot protected. Make sure to consult with your doctor before doing any athletic activities that may aggravate your specific injury.
9. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (IT Band)
What is it? IT band is an injury of the tendons located on the outer thighs and knees. The iliotibial band runs from the pelvis (hips) to the tibia (lower front portion of the leg), crossing at the knee joints. Overuse may cause it to become irritated — making you feel pain on the outside part of the knee, especially when your feet strike the ground while running.
How can it be prevented? There are several things you can do to prevent IT band syndrome, including always warming up before your runs, avoiding running on uneven surfaces, doing strength training exercises for your hips and legs, stretching after every run, and using a foam roller to release knots and prevent tightness.
How is it treated? To treat IT band syndrome, use the RICE method — rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Your orthopedic doctor will also recommend stretching exercises you can do at home to promote healing. You’ll have to take some time off running and — depending on the severity of your pain — you may need over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.
Request an Appointment at The Orthopedic Clinic Today
At The Orthopedic Clinic, we want you to live your life in full motion. If pain after or while running is making life uncomfortable, let us help you. We’ll tailor a treatment plan that’s best for your lifestyle and get you back to doing the things you love. With six convenient locations, we provide quality orthopedic care and interventional pain management services to patients in Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, Port Orange, Palm Coast, and New Smyrna Beach.
Call us at (386) 255-4596 to schedule an appointment.