Identify and Prevent Running Injuries

Author: Courney Erickson-Adams, MD

Running offers many benefits to support physical, mental, and emotional health. That’s why athletes of all ages and levels enjoy running as an excellent way to improve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. But there are safety concerns, too. Runners are vulnerable to common injuries, and may be exposed to safety hazards, depending on the setting. Since June is National Safety Month, it’s a great time to discuss common running injuries, how they can be prevented, and additional tips to stay safe while taking care of your health.

Common injuries among runners

There are a variety of injuries that runners may experience. Five of the most common include:

  • Achilles tendinopathy. Also referred to as Achilles tendinitis, this condition is caused by repetitive stress to an overuse of the Achilles tendon, which connects your calf muscles to the heel bone, and is vital in running, walking, and jumping. Achilles tendinitis involves the inflammation of the tendon, causing swelling, pain, and irritation. Contributing factors include a sudden increase in the intensity of activity, tight calf muscles, and bone spurs on the attachment point of the tendon to the heel bone.
  • Illiotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS). The illiotibial band is a ligament that runs along the outside of the thigh, from hip to shin. The IT band helps stabilize and move the knee. When this ligament becomes too tight or inflamed, a runner can experience pain and sometimes swelling, too. Runners who repeatedly turn their leg inward are at risk for ITBS. Contributing factors include wearing shoes that are worn out or don’t fit well, using poor running form, and running too many miles in a short period of time. 
  • Shin Splints. Also referred to as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, shin splints are one of the most common injuries that runners experience. In this condition, the muscles, tendons, and tissue near the tibia become inflamed, which causes pain along the inner part of the tibia where muscles attach to the bone. The pain may be sharp, or dull and throbbing, and it can occur both during a run and afterward. Contributing factors include changes in the frequency, duration, and intensity of running. 
  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS). Sometimes referred to as “runner’s knee,” PFPS causes pain in the front of the knee as well as around the kneecap. Contributing factors include overuse, or in some cases, a misalignment of the knee. 
  • Plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the tissue (plantar fascia) that supports the arch of the foot, causing pain on the bottom of the heel. When too much stress is placed on the feet, it can tear tissue. Contributing factors include tight calf muscles, a high arch, activities in which the foot repeatedly impacts a surface, or performing new activities. 

Strategies to prevent running injuries

The good news is that you can help to prevent running injuries by applying a few key strategies: 

  • Listen to your body’s warning signals. If you have persistent pain that doesn’t improve with rest, see a healthcare provider to check it out.
  • Start slow and be realistic. Work with a trainer to create a running plan that fits your individual needs.
  • Warm-up and stretch. Instead of heading out the door cold, warm up for a few minutes and then stretch thoroughly. When you do, pay particular attention to the muscles in your calves, hamstrings, groin, and quadriceps.
  • Add strength training and core strengthening to your routine. Both help to strengthen the muscles you need to maintain good running form. 
  • Mix it up. Include other types of exercises in your routine, such as swimming or biking, to prevent overuse injuries.
  • Run on friendly surfaces. These include those that are flat, smooth, and create the least amount of stress on your joints. Work your way up to challenges, like steep hills, instead of tackling them right away. 

Tips to stay safe while running

In addition to following strategies to prevent running injuries, you should always make safety a top priority, too. Here are a few tips for staying safe on the road from Runner’s World:

  • Make sure someone else knows of your plans. 
  • Carry proper identification and a cell phone with emergency contacts clearly visible.
  • Don’t assume that drivers can see you. 
  • Face traffic when you’re running so you can see oncoming cars.
  • Run on the sidewalk or shoulder of the road if traffic gets heavy or the road narrows.
  • Wear high-visibility clothing and include reflective gear and a headlamp after dark.
  • Make sure you can hear everything around you by avoiding earbuds and headphones.
  • Watch the crest of the hill, since drivers may not be expecting you on the other side. 
  • Be courteous by communicating with drivers at stop signs and elsewhere, so they’ll know your intentions and be more cooperative in sharing the road.

If you would like to learn more about how to identify and prevent running injuries, or if you think you may have a running injury and would like to receive an evaluation, our expert sports medicine team can help. Contact us to learn more.