Running injuries are, unfortunately, part and parcel of running, with 65% of runners experiencing some kind of injury every year. However permanent damage and elongated time off of running are avoidable, let’s start looking at different types of running injury.
These are injuries which are as a result of getting it wrong while running or in day to day life, they can be anything from tripping on a tree root, rolling your ankle off the edge of a kerb or breaking a bone. Sometimes you just drop the ball momentarily or run out of luck and this will result in enforced time off of running. Luckily these are generally easy to treat as the body will heal itself in time and allow you to gradually return to running. There can be complications along the way, especially with complex fractures around the ankle joint, so always follow the advice of a medical practitioner before you return to running. As a result, there’s not too much point me dwelling on them here, so let me move onto the more common kind of running injury.
The bane of many a runner, these occur when you run too far, too fast or with poor form. These injuries traditionally affect the tendons and ligaments in the lower body but only occur after prolonged abuse, so learning the warning signs of these injuries is vital to avoid prolonged time sidelined. Let’s look at the most common running injuries
This is one of the most widespread running injuries, and can take a long time to recover from. This manifests itself as a pain in the back of the ankle, although can be felt anywhere from the base of the heel to higher up the calf. This is caused by the stretching or inflammation of the achilles tendon, normally as a result of being pulled by a tight calf muscle.
Achilles tendonitis is an especially dangerous injury as it can easily lead to a rupturing of the achilles tendon, which can require a long rehabilitation period or even surgery. The rupture can occur with very little warning, and has even been known to be audible to those nearby! For this reason it is very important to monitor this injury carefully and if in doubt stop running.
If you nip this injury in the bud you shouldn’t have any problems, but leave it for a prolonged period and it can be very difficult to recover from as the achilles tendon is a long way from the heart, so it takes a long time for enough blood to reach the tendon to repair it. Foam rolling and sports massage to loosen the calf is the best treatment, combined with regular icing to encourage blood flow.
The piriformis is a little known muscle that sits deep within the glutes, and prevents the knee from rotating too much. If the piriformis becomes tight it has a tendency to squeeze the sciatic nerve and cause pain when running, which is intensified when sitting.
Tightness in the muscle is often caused by weak hamstrings, glues or hip muscles, and can also be caused by excessive overpronation, causing the piriformis to work hard stabilising the knee, resulting in tightness.
Treatment involves stretches that target the glutes and foam rolling the area to release tight muscles. If you have a history of piriformis problems, you can use exercises to strengthen the glutes combined with foam rolling to ensure you stay pain free. It may also be worth getting an assessment of your kinetic chain by a coach or personal trainer to help assess whether you suffer with any weaknesses that can be addressed.
Iliotibial Band (ITB) Syndrom
One of the hardest injuries to shift if left untreated, it manifests itself as pain in the outside of the knee, or in the IT band itself. The IT band is a very large fascial band which runs from the hip down to the knee, and can be pulled tight by a variety of problems which can include tight hip flexors, overpronating or weak core muscles/glutes.
For all cases of ITBS I recommend immediately seeing a physiotherapist to help locate the cause of the pain, as it can come from various sources. To prevent problems ensure you foam roll regularly to keep muscles loose and strengthen your core/glutes to give your body a stable platform to run on, reducing strain on other areas.
A phrase that fills many runners with dread, this is an especially troublesome running injury not because of excessive pain but the difficulty many face in returning to running after suffering with symptoms.
The planter fascia is a strip of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot from your heel to your metatarsals (long bones that run along your toes). It has the rather unfortunate position of being at the bottom of the kinetic chain, so tightness in any muscles on the lower body could eventually work their way down the leg to pull on the plantar. The function of the planter is to stabilise the foot, which means that those with high arches, which will put the planter under more strain, are at more of a risk.
The pain will normally manifest itself as a pulling in the heel, although can be experienced along the bottom of the foot towards the arch in rare circumstances. To treat the injury a two pronged approach is recommended, both releasing the plantar itself using a golf or tennis ball, alongside stretching and releasing the calf to reduce any pulling on the planter from further up the kinetic chain. These exercises along with barefoot running can be used to prevent an athlete from developing plantar fasciitis.
If you suffer with symptoms it is important to treat them immediately to stop the injury becoming chronic, which can result in a long time away from running.
Patello-femoral knee syndrome, also known as runner’s knee is a common running injury that causes pain around the knee joint, and is especially painful when ascending or descending stairs.
This is traditionally caused by weak or tight quadriceps which will pull the knee tight during exercise, but can also be caused by overactive or weak hamstrings, something a medical professional will have to evaluate.
The best prevention is loosening your quads with a sports massage and regular foam rolling combined with strengthening exercises such as plyometric jumps. It is worth mentioning that unlike other injuries, rest will not help you recover from runner’s knee.
There are two types of shin splints, muscular and skeletal.
Most cases are skeletal and if left untreated can lead to fractures so it’s important to rest and slowly increase running volume. This is especially common in new runners who increase the load too quickly when their body is not used to the strains that running places on the body. It is also more common in larger athletes who put more strain through their body with every step. There is little that can be done to help strengthen the body to prevent against shin splints, but it may be worth reviewing whether you are getting enough vitamin D.
If you run your finger along the inside of your tibia and feel the muscle is sore rather than the bone, it is possible the pain is muscular, which accounts for roughly 10% of cases. The best treatment is rest combined with foam rolling of the muscles in the area to loosen them and release pressure. The causes of muscular shin splints are similar to skeletal, running too far/fast too soon.
Hopefully this has given you an insight into the most common injuries, to summarise the warning signs you should look out for:
Pulling on the back of the heel- Achilles tendonitis
Pain on the bottom of your feel- Plantar fasciitis
Pain on the outside of your knee- ITB syndrome
Dull pain above/below the knee- Runner’s knee
Pain in the shin during or after running- Shin splints
Pain deep within your glutes- Piriformis syndrome
Each running injury should be treated in the same fashion
- Immediately stop running or drastically lower running volume. If you are experiencing pain when running, it is for body’s way of warning you that you are doing damage.
- Locate the cause of the injury, preferably by visiting a professional. They will not be able to cure the injury for you, rather prescribe you with a series of exercises to help recovery.
- Follow up on the exercises prescribed by the professional. If there is no improvement after several weeks it may be worth visiting your GP to ensure it is nothing more serious.
- Get your running gait analysed to check for any areas of weaknesses that may have caused the injury, or any effects the injury may have had on your gait.
- Slowly return to running and try not to adjust your gait to favour the afflicted area, as this will likely cause issues elsewhere. Continue with the stretching and strengthening exercises prescribed to you to reduce the risk of the injury relapsing.
If you have taken time off with injury and are looking to get back into training E-mail Simon@phazontriathlon.com or call on 07515666325 and we can discuss the best way for you to make a successful return to running.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed to educate athletes on the symptoms, causes and basic treatment of the most common running injuries and should not be considered to be medical advice. If symptoms last more than a week or you are in any doubt, visit a medical professional for advice on the causes of your injury and a rehabilitation program.