While running is a popular natural form of exercise, the continuous, repetitive pounding on the pavement or ground can easily cause injuries. Most runners experience pain and injury at some time in their running career and need to seek professional treatment to recover.
The following are some common running injuries, their causes and ideas as to how to manage these injuries.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
The Iliotibial band (IT band) is a thick tendon that runs from your hip, down the outside of your thigh to your knee. Your knee extends and flexes when you run and this makes the IT band work hard as it rubs along the side of your femur.
If you feel pain in the outside of your knee or upper thigh you may have developed Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS), also referred to as runners knee.
There are a number of reasons why a runner might get ITBS. If you have increased your total running mileage or are doing a lot of downhill work you are putting pressure on your hips. Couple this with hip and gluteal muscles that are weak and you will be susceptible to ITBS.
ITBS can be hard to get rid of and can be made worse by continuing to run with the injury. Take some time off and rest for a couple of days and when you start running again, cut back on the distance.
The most beneficial exercises to rehabilitate ITBS concentrate on strengthening your hip abductors. Single leg squats, side to side steps and side leg lifts will help. Rolling out the IT band with a foam roller from your hip to your knee before you run, as well as after your run can also be beneficial.
Shortening your running stride can help by changing the centre of your weight on your foot as you land.
Your hamstring stretches down the back of your thigh and supports you when you bend your knees and extend your legs.
Hamstring injuries range from a tightness down the back of your thigh and achiness when you run, to a sudden intense pain and even a popping sound with bruising if the hamstring is pulled.
People most often have hamstring problems when the muscle is weak, sometimes because the hamstring is too short or too long. Short hamstrings are put under pressure when you run, and long hamstrings can be vulnerable to injury. Some hamstring issues arise because your quads have become strong and are not allowing the hamstrings to do their job.
If you pull your hamstring running then you are in for a long break, probably months. If your injury is less serious, you may need to cut back to running more slowly and not attempt hill running.
Single leg deadlifts can help with hamstring strength. Rolling the hamstring on a foam roller can lessen any tightness you may be feeling. Deep tissue massage is also a favoured treatment for hamstring injuries.
Like patellofemoral pain syndrome, patellar tendonitis also affects your knee cap. The patellar tendon joins your kneecap to your shin.
Patellar tendonitis happens because of overuse and is common with long distance runners. It presents as tiny tears to the tendon and causes pain around the knee.
Cut back on hill runs and over training to avoid this injury.
As with other knee injuries, strengthening the muscles around the knee such as the hamstrings and quads will help to avoid patellar tendonitis.
Your Achilles is the tissue that connects your two calf muscles to your heel. With Achilles tendonitis the tissue becomes irritated and swells, causing pain and swelling in your calf.
If you have tight or weak calves you may suffer from this injury, and it can be made worse by increased training that includes speed work and hills.
Achilles tendonitis can keep you out of running for some time if it is serious. It is not an injury you should try and run through.
To avoid Achilles tendonitis always stretch your calf muscles before you run. Make sure that you are wearing correctly supportive shoes.
The traditional RICE treatment - rest, ice, compression and elevation - is one of the best treatments for an injured Achilles.
Heel drops will help strengthen your Achilles, as will running in a pool and training on the elliptical in the gym.
Shin splints are more properly called medial tibial stress syndrome, and involve tiny tears in the muscles around your shin bone. If you have shin splints you’ll will feel an aching or stabbing pain in your shins.
This is a common injury for new runners, or if you are coming back to running after having taken a break. Shin splints are a signal that you are overdoing your running. Runners with flat feet or high arches can also experience shin splints.
As with most running injuries, you can help your shin splints by running less for a few days. Then slowly build up your mileage by around 10 per cent each week.
Treat shin splints with rest and ice, and elevate your legs at night. Taping your shins can also relieve pain and help support your ankle and take the pressure off your shins.
This is an injury to your plantar fascia, the tissue that is on the bottom of your foot. With plantar fasciitis you have inflammation or small tears in the ligaments and tendons that connect your toes and heels.
Plantar fasciitis will result in you feeling pain under your heel or along the arch of your foot which can be worse when you get up in the morning.
You may get this injury if you have very high or low arches, or if your foot rolls excessively either outward or inward while running. Problems with your back, hip flexors and core muscles can affect your stride and cause pain in your feet.
Plantar fasciitis is a nagging injury that can take time to heal, especially if you continue to run while injured. Stretching the foot can help with the pain, as can rolling your foot over a bottle of frozen water several times a day.
Working on your core strength can cut down on the stress to your spine, that then runs down into your foot as you run.
In many cases, relief can be found with orthotic supports in your running shoes.
General tips to avoid injury
Warm up and cool down
Yes, the old advice for any form of exercise applies to running. Make sure that you warm up before your run, thoroughly stretching your muscles. After a run, cool down and give your body time to recover.
10 per cent rule
Running too much, too often is a common cause of injury. A simple rule of thumb is to only increase your mileage by 10 per cent each week.
Running at your most efficient level will help to avoid injury. If your technique is poor you will be putting a strain on your body with every step you take, and these will build up over time into injury. Get a professional to assess your running style to identify any problems before they cause you pain.
Get fitted for shoes that suit your foot and your running style. And make sure you get new shoes if you feel pain, and at least every 600 miles run.
Runners can benefit from strength training in the gym. Build your core and structural strength, including focus on your hips which are often the source of pain in other parts of your body.
Know your limits
Look after your body with regular days off running each week. Mix up your training routine so you don’t overstress certain muscles or tendons.
If you experience pain that does not resolve with rest, or pain that re-occurs you should consult your doctor.