From shin splints to plantar fasciitis, there comes a moment of reckoning for every runner where we have to confront injury. Some athletes are luckier than others. But you only have to be unlucky once to do some serious damage to your racing plans.
What are the most common running injuries? And is there anything we can do to prevent them?
There are several common injuries associated with running, and while they are not life-threatening, they are painful to manage, limiting your range of motion and inconveniencing you as you recover.
Below we look at the eight most common running injuries focusing on what causes them, the science behind the injury, and how long you can expect to recover. For good measure, we’ll throw in a couple of tips on how to prevent these common acts of rebellion from our bodies.
As every runner can attest — it’s better to prevent the injury than to spend a full training season trying to fix it!
- Eight Most Common Running Injuries Explained
- Will Running Injuries Repair On Their Own?
- How to Prevent a Running Injury
- Rule #1 of Running: Stay Injury-Free!
Eight Most Common Running Injuries Explained
Here are the top eight injuries that runners are susceptible to:
- Patellofemoral Syndrome or Runner’s Knee
- Ankle Strain or Sprain
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Shin Splints
- Achilles Tendinopathy
- Stress Fractures
- Pulled Muscles
- IT Band Syndrome
1. Patellofemoral Syndrome
More commonly known as Runner’s Knee, Patellofemoral Syndrome is a condition that often causes inexplicable pain in the knee or surrounding areas. It is characterized by pain in one or both of the knees. It produces a popping or crackling sound after periods of inactivity, such as standing, sitting, or lying down for prolonged periods
Snap, Crackle, Pop, anyone?
While doctors in the medical world are yet to come up with a definitive cause for Runner’s Knee, they have identified a few leading causes of this painful injury that could see you out of the game for roughly six weeks.
The most common causes are:
- Excessive exercise or activity that results in repeated stress on the knee joints
- A muscle weakness – usually the hips and knees – which don’t hold the kneecap in place
- A previous injury, such as a knee break
- Previous surgery to repair the ACL tendon
While it is true that running or walking is great for your overall health, Runner’s Knee is real and painful, and these activities are known to irritate the kneecap.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone is susceptible to Patellofemoral syndrome, but it is generally diagnosed in younger people. Pain in the knee in older people is usually triggered by arthritis.
Women are twice as likely to get Runner’s Knee than their male counterparts due to increased risks of osteoporosis associated with their menstrual cycles.
Runners, athletes, and those who play sports are all susceptible to a case of Patellofemoral Syndrome.
2. Ankle Strain or Sprain
Have you ever stepped wrong and felt your ankle twist or click? This is one of the more common injuries associated with running and is caused by stretching or tearing the ligaments in your ankle. There is, however, a clear difference between a sprain and a strain.
What is a Sprain?
A sprain is caused by injury to the tissue connecting the bones.
What is a Strain?
A strain is characterized by injury to the muscle, affecting the tissue connecting the muscle to the bone.
A few things could cause a sprain or strain in the ankle and put your running routine on hold for up to six weeks.
- Wearing the wrong or worn-out shoes while running or walking
- Running on uneven roads or ground surfaces
Who is at Risk?
Absolutely anyone is at risk of a strain or sprain, but runners are more so as they often suffer from muscle fatigue that results in less-than-perfect support for the joints.
Runners who wear regular shoes instead of those designed specifically for running are also at risk of suffering a sprain or strain.
3. Plantar Fasciitis
Have you ever gotten out of bed in the morning and felt that shock of pain in your foot towards your heel? Chances are that you might be suffering from Plantar Fasciitis.
Commonly characterized by intense pain that increases as time goes by, this injury is one of the more painful ones caused by inflammation of the Plantar Fascia tendon. This is made up of the tissues that connect your toes to your heel bones.
Doctors have all but exhausted their resources trying to identify the exact cause of Plantar Fasciitis, but extensive research and study have led them to identify the following causes of this painful injury that could result in a recovery period of several months:
- Stress on the Plantar Fascia tendon or tissues
- Obesity and excessive weight on the foot
- Foot shape and arc
Who is at Risk?
Everyone is at risk of this painful injury, but runners and athletes are more so as the constant impact of their foot on the road or ground surface damages these sensitive tissues in the foot.
Older people, generally those in their late 40s to around 60, are found to be more susceptible to Plantar Fasciitis.
Overweight people are more at risk of Plantar Fasciitis as their weight causes more impact on the tissues.
Those with flat feet, high foot arcs, and those who walk with a slight gait are also at risk as their feet make more contact with the ground than others. See our guide: under vs over pronation.
4. Shin Splints
Shin splints are known as one of the more common injuries that runners, dancers, and those in the military tend to incur.
The pain is felt in the front lower part of the leg, better known as the shin. Doctors have no definitive way of accurately assessing the impact of the damage that shin splints can cause, but have found that running is one of the root causes of this injury that takes approximately one month to recover from.
The sole cause of shin splints is overuse or repetitive stress on the tibia (shin). This can be from the impact of the foot hitting the ground with each stride or running on uneven ground and wearing the incorrect shoes.
Who is at Risk?
Almost anyone is at risk of shin splints, but more so in those who engage in high levels of activity like running, dancing, and even military training.
People with flat feet or high arcs are also at risk of developing Shin Splints.
5. Achilles Tendinopathy
Also called tendonitis, Achilles Tendinopathy is characterized by pain in the back of the heel and ankle. Injury to the tissues connecting the calves to the heel bone, the Achilles, are common in runners and can cause severe pain for between six months to a year. Flare-ups after recovery are also fairly common.
What exactly causes tendonitis? Here are a few more common causes of this painful injury:
- Overexertion or intense strain of the Achilles heel or tendons caused by running and other sporting activities like basketball and tennis
- Suddenly increasing your distance or intensity while running
- Infrequent activity
Who is at Risk?
It’s no secret that we tend to feel those niggling pains more as we age, and science agrees. Older people are more at risk of Achilles Tendinopathy as their muscles weaken with age, develop high blood pressure, or are on antibiotics like fluoroquinolones that weaken muscles and tendons.
Those with medical issues like psoriasis, or those who are obese, have high arcs, or flat feet are also more susceptible.
It’s more men than women who are at risk of Achilles Tendinopathy, but doctors have yet to discover why.
6. Stress Fractures
Stress fractures are tiny tears or cracks in the tendon or muscles in the legs but have been known to occur elsewhere in the body too. Stress fractures occur when you overuse your body without providing ample rest and recovery.
Sports that involve repetitive jumping or foot pounding (such as running) are usually responsible. These minute fractures are commonly seen in those who participate in strenuous activity that puts pressure or excessive weight on the lower leg bones or foot. This is particularly true for runners, athletes, and military personnel.
There are a few causes of stress fractures. Here are some of the more common causes:
- A sudden increase or change in the intensity or amount of activity. This includes “upping your game” and increasing the duration of your speed while running
- A lack of rest or recovery between workout sessions or runs
- Remodeling of the bone due to a previous injury. I.e., Resorption
Who is at Risk?
It would seem fair to say that absolutely anyone is at risk of stress fractures. But did you know that women with menstrual issues or no menstruation cycle are even more at risk than others? This is largely due to their iron levels which affect the body’s ability to create Hemoglobin. Without going into too much detail, we will remind you that Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygenated blood to the organs and muscles.
Sportsmen and women are also prone to stress fractures, especially those who play tennis, basketball, or even dance.
Other medical conditions like high blood pressure, osteoporosis, flat feet, or even those who lack the essential nutrients Vitamin D and calcium are also at risk.
A diagnosis of stress fractures could set you back around six to eight weeks in recovery time. It varies though. Some stress fractures can end your entire running season.
7. Pulled Muscles
We’ve all “pulled” or strained a muscle at least once in our lives, but for some, the resulting pain and injury are far more severe than others and might require surgery to repair, depending on how bad the strain is.
Usually characterized by pain in a certain part of the body, runners incur pulled muscles in their legs, often due to the continuous strain on the muscles or tendons.
A minor pull is characterized as overstretching, while major pulls are known to cause complete or at least partial tears in the muscle, causing intense pain and a resulting recovery time of anywhere from a few short weeks to a few months.
The number one cause of pulled muscles or muscle strain is repetitive stress like running, a sudden increase in the intensity of the run, or a lack of stretching or warming up before a run.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone who runs or plays some form of contact sport is at risk of pulling or straining a muscle.
8. IT Band Syndrome
The last injury we will cover in this article, IT band syndrome, is also known as iliotibial syndrome and is characterized by severe leg pain. IT band syndrome accounts for 12% of all running injuries and has a recovery time of four weeks to two months, depending on the severity of the injury.
The iliotibial tendon runs from the top of the pelvic bone, in the hips, down to the ankle.
IT band syndrome does not require surgical intervention but rather a change in the workout or running routine and sufficient recovery time.
The number one cause of IT band syndrome is overuse of the tendon or muscle while running. Here are a few other common causes:
- Repetitive bending of the knees
- Sports like cycling, basketball, and even soccer put pressure on the muscles and tendons in the leg
- Weakened hip, abdominal, and gluteus muscles
Who is at Risk?
All sportsmen and women are at risk of developing IT band syndrome while running, but so are those with bowed legs, arthritis, or other muscle issues in the knee and people who suffer from muscle weakness.
Women are more susceptible to IT band injuries than men, which is thought to be linked to their menstrual cycles and iron levels.
Will Running Injuries Repair On Their Own?
While many of these injuries are seen in runners, other underlying issues could cause these injuries and more. If you are concerned or fearful that you may be experiencing one or more of these common injuries, it is best to seek medical attention and discuss your symptoms with your doctor or physician.
These injuries may vary in severity, and while some can be treated with rest and recovery, others may require surgical or medical intervention to treat them successfully.
How to Prevent a Running Injury
It is almost impossible to prevent an injury from happening, right? Wrong!
If you are healthy, have no underlying medical issues, and are fairly fit, there are many things you can do to prevent injuries, like the eight we have just identified and explained.
Prevention is far better than cure, so let’s look at a few great ways to ensure that you do not let your guard down and fall victim to one of these painful injuries and set yourself back in training time and your fitness schedule.
Tip #1: Warm-Up
Read any sports magazine or article on fitness, and you will see just how important a warm-up session can be before you hit the road for a run. A good warm-up increases your heart rate and blood vessels and the amount of oxygenated blood in your veins and vital organs.
Warming up properly before your run is also a great way to wake up those muscles, preparing them for the activity to come.
We recommend 10 minutes of dynamic stretching to prepare you for the workout ahead.
Tip #2: The Best Footwear
Are you wearing your everyday sneakers or tennis shoes while you run? Stop! Put those safely back in your closet, head to your nearest sporting store, and invest in a good pair of running shoes designed specifically for your running type.
Running shoes are available in various styles and fits, so be sure to chat with the sales consultant to ensure that the shoes provide great support while out on your run.
Your shoes should fit snugly with sufficient wiggle room for your toes, so get fitted properly and ensure your heel does not slide out at the back. It is important, too, to wear the socks you would normally wear while running to get the exact fit.
Tip #3: Stretch, Stretch, Stretch
Do you stretch your muscles enough after a run? A good warm-down session improves your circulation and stretches those tired muscles, ensuring they are properly stretched and ready for recovery.
Stretching can be added to your regular warm-down schedule. Dynamic stretches are a great way to stretch muscles and are made up of continuous movements rather than static stretches, which could lead to overextension of a muscle or tendon.
See more: our complete guide to post-running recovery.
Tip #4: Cross-Train
Cross-training might just be one of the most effective methods of increasing the flexibility of your muscles, preventing injury and overuse by adding a new training method to your existing workout.
Choose a cross-training method that provides the opposite intensity of your activity. For people who jog, a high-intensity workout like skipping, rowing, or weight training is a great idea, while those who run long distances or run for speed might like to add swimming or cycling to their workout routine.
Cross-training helps increase flexibility and pliancy of muscles, preventing or minimizing the risk of injury.
Tip #5: Look at Your Diet
Are you getting enough nutrients in your diet? Do your meals contain sufficient amounts of essential vitamins and nutrients like iron, vitamin D, calcium, and sodium? These are all necessary for healthy bodies and bones, so increase your nutrient intake to prevent injury.
If you struggle to incorporate nutrients into your diet, you can speak to your doctor or a dietician to recommend a supplement or meal program to boost your nutrient consumption.
See more: our example of an optimal runner’s diet.
Tip #6: Rest and Recovery
It is imperative that you schedule rest or recovery days between runs. This gives your body and muscles time to rest and ensures that you are ready for your next run. Create a running schedule that includes rest and recovery days, or ask your trainer to help you develop one that aligns with your fitness goals and current fitness levels.
Tip #7: Slow and Steady Wins the Race
When running, we often have to fight against our body’s natural urge to run as fast and as far as possible. But, this can have a devastating effect on the body, as it increases the risk of injury. Start slow, and gradually increase your pace or intensity as you get used to the activity.
Never, and we repeat, never increase your intensity and duration simultaneously. Always work on one at a time before introducing the second to your routine.
Tip #8: Listen to Your Body’s Cues
No one knows your body (and your muscles) better than you do, so listen to it and note those little niggles of pain that crop up occasionally. These are often your body’s way of telling you to slow down or take a step back.
Ignoring your body can lead to some nasty injuries, so don’t ignore pain. If you are concerned about any pain you may be feeling in your legs, joints, or other parts of your body, visit your doctor and have it seen to as soon as you can.
Rule #1 of Running: Stay Injury-Free!
Running, while fun and a great way to keep fit, is often to blame for many injuries. From sprains and strains to more serious issues like fractures and breaks, several injuries can come from running.
While we have identified eight of these common running injuries, there are a great many more that are out there, so preparing your body to prevent injury is the best thing to do.
Rule #1 of running: Avoid injury!
You can’t train effectively if your body lives in an ice bucket.
Try our tips on preventing an injury while running, and be sure to visit your doctor to rule out serious injuries that might require surgical or medical intervention to treat. And please, always remember the importance and value of a good rest or recovery day between runs.
It could mean the difference between a slight sprain and a more serious injury.