running injuries

The 5 Most Common Running Injuries And How to Treat Them

The benefits of running are many and it’s not unusual for those new to the activity to become bitten by the ‘running bug’ and get carried away.

I know of one particular gentleman who took up jogging at the age of sixty simply because his doctor suggested he should get more exercise and the thought of joining a gym didn’t appeal.

The health improvements and the general feeling of well-being he experienced through his regular runs came as quite a surprise but he’s now a committed, some might say obsessed, marathon runner.

Training for long-distance running events requires careful planning if overuse or repetitive stress injuries are to be avoided but even at the leisure end of the sport, new runners must take the time to prepare themselves for the rigours of their new activity so that common injuries and ailments don’t creep in to spoil the fun.

Listed below are the most common injuries suffered by runners with some helpful hints and tips on how to avoid them:

1. Blisters

What are they?

Blisters are caused by excessive friction on the skin. Prolonged friction causes the outer layers of skin to separate and fill with fluid or blood creating a blister. The most common sites are on the heel, toes, or ball of the foot.

What causes them?

One of the most common causes is ill-fitting running shoes.

Old running shoes that have lost their plush cushioning may begin to move around on your foot more than they did when new or rough areas may appear in the fabric through general wear and tear.

New running shoes should feel as comfortable as slippers from the first day you wear them but it’s always best to do a few shorter runs before tackling any great distance, just in case a niggling discomfort appears after a few miles of wear.

How can I prevent them?

Invest in new running shoes before your old ones disintegrate and fall off your feet!

Buy running shoes from a specialist running shoe store and seek the guidance of experienced staff if you’re unsure of fit.

Experiment with socks!

There are a number of anti-blister socks available on the market and most have a double layer of fabric to reduce the chances of excessive friction.

One layer stays with the foot while the other layer moves with the running shoe.

However, it may be a simple case of finding the right fabric and thickness of sock to keep your feet as cool and as comfortable as possible while you run.

Brush off any dried on mud or dirt from your running shoes to prevent small pieces flaking off and dropping in to cause irritation when you next wear them.

Allow your running shoes to air and dry out thoroughly before wearing them again.

Want to get to know more about blisters? We’ve written an in-depth article about blisters and how to treat them!

2. Knee pain

What is it?

The pain can vary from a dull muscular ache in the general area of the knee, which tends to get worse with running, through to a much sharper pain that may continue to cause discomfort even when not running.

What causes it?

The source of the pain could be a variety of things.

On the whole, knee pain that is brought on or exacerbated by running will be stemming from a muscular or soft tissue source and will generally be classed as an overuse injury.

Pain that continues even when resting from running should be investigated further by a medical professional as it may be stemming from a more serious medical condition.

The most common knee problem experienced by new runners is iliotibial tract friction syndrome, otherwise known as ‘runner’s knee’.

Pain will be felt on the outer edge of the knee and is caused by friction between the iliotibial tract, a strong band that runs down the outside of the leg from the pelvis to below the knee, and the underlying soft tissues.

How can I prevent it?

Runner’s knee, along with most other soft tissue complaints found in running, is an overuse injury caused frequently by poor biomechanics so an important step towards its prevention is to have your running gait (style) analysed.

Understanding your running style will make choosing appropriate running shoes much easier and this will, in turn, lower the risk of related injuries.

Embark upon a programme of knee strengthening exercises under the guidance of a sports therapist or exercise professional.

Consider the effect any excess body weight may be having on your knees. Make sure your running shoes provide adequate shock absorption – and keep running!

3. Shin splints

What is it?

Shin splints is a term used to cover all pain felt in the general region of the shin or front of the lower leg.

The pain is usually exacerbated by running but may ease off during a run, only to return with a vengeance the following morning!

In most cases, shin pain will be experienced each time the heel strikes the ground when running or walking.

What causes it?

The pain is generally due to inflammation caused by repeated stresses being placed on the shin bone (tibia). Although commonly muscular in nature, in more extreme cases, tiny stress fractures may appear in the shin bone itself.

How can I prevent it?

As with runner’s knee, this is an overuse injury so understanding the potential causes is the first step towards its prevention.

Have your biomechanics checked with a running gait analysis as abnormalities such as overpronation or supination can lead to shin splints.

Seek professional advice from a sports podiatrist regarding correcting abnormalities with the use of orthotics.

Make sure your running shoes provide adequate cushioning and support for the type of runner you are the type of running you do.

Try to vary running surfaces as continually pounding on roads will add to the impact stress being placed on the shin.

Make any changes to a training schedule gradually to allow the body, and muscles of the lower leg particularly, time to adapt to the new stresses e.g. increase mileage or pace in small increments.

4. Plantar fasciitis

What is it?

This is a condition which affects the bottom of the foot and pain will be felt along the sole just in front of the heel.

Walking or running will increase the pain and it can become painful even to put pressure on the foot to stand up.

What causes it?

The cause of the pain is a strain in the plantar fascia.

This is a strong band of soft tissue which extends from the heel to the base of the toes and separates the skin from the muscles and tendons of the foot.

The strain is often the result of taking up a new, generally high impact, activity such as running but it can also affect seasoned runners, the main cause then being a change of footwear which affects the stride pattern.

How can I prevent it?

Buy your running shoes from a specialist running shoe shop and ask experienced staff to help you make choices suitable for your running style and the type of running you do.

Replace your running shoes regularly; not only because worn shoes provide little in the way of cushioning but also because the dramatic change of feel created by a new pair in comparison to the totally worn out pair could affect your stride and lead to problems.

Follow a progressive training plan to allow your feet time to adapt to new stresses gradually.

With the help of a sports therapist or exercise professional, begin a programme of strengthening and stretching exercises to improve the flexibility of your feet.

5. Achilles tendonitis

What is it?

The Achilles tendon is the hard band you can feel at the back of your ankle, the narrow part just above your heel bone.

Pain in the area may begin as more of a stiffness, especially first thing in the morning, but it will feel worse at the start of a run before easing again as the muscles warm up.

The tendon itself will be tender to touch and may become thickened.

What causes it?

The most common cause is simply irritation from the heel-tab of your running shoe!

How can I prevent it?

Choose shoes with low cut heel-tabs.

If you discover your new running shoes are beginning to cause friction on your Achilles after a few miles of wear, cut downward slits into the heel of the shoe, one on either side of the heel-tab, so that the part of the shoe causing the irritation falls naturally away from your heel as you run.
Replace your running shoes before the old ones are completely worn out as the lack of cushioning in the old insoles may allow your foot to drop lower inside the shoe, increasing the risk of heel friction.

Never choose fashion over function when it comes to running shoes!