At the start of the New Year, many people decide to start a running program. We treat a lot of runners in our orthopedic and sports medicine practice and see a lot of the more common running injuries, with both new and long-time runners.
Running is a fantastic cardio workout, but if you’ve never run before – or are getting started again after an injury or break – it’s good to be aware of the more common running injuries.
Foot Mechanics & Running
During running, the foot is active in both the landing and push-off phase. It absorbs the shock of impact when landing and controls the forces generated by running during push-off. Most running injuries can be linked to one of these two functions.
Common Running Injuries
Here are the most common injuries runners experience and tips to prevent these injuries from occurring:
This is probably the most common running injury. It is usually due to overtraining, especially hill work and speed work; and not stretching the calf muscles. The plantar fascia – a think band of tissues that stretches from the toes to the heel – is prone to tearing when overworked. This tearing results in inflammation. The slow blood supply to the fascia hinders healing and results in a chronic condition.
To prevent plantar fasciitis, follow these tips:
- Wear the right shows with good arch support and heel cushioning
- Stretch the Achilles tendon regularly
- Keep at a healthy weight
- Increase your running gradually and alternate running with other activities
- Try to minimize going barefoot at home which puts stress on the feet
This large strong tendon runs from the heel to the calf and propels you forward while running. Overworking the Achilles tendon results in inflammation.
A couple good ways to ward off Achilles tendinitis are:
- Tennis ball roll: Loosen your plantar fascia by rolling a tennis ball under each foot. The muscles and tendons along the bottom of your foot exert pressure from below on the Achilles. This exercise helps keeps things loose.
- Foam roller: You can increase the flexibility in your lower legs with a foam roller, rolling it over the front and back of the lower legs. This release tightness and tension.
The most common runners’ stress fracture is to the tibia, or shin bone. This type of fracture occurs with issues related to the landing or push-off phase of running.
Here are a few tips to prevent shin fractures:
- Do exercises to keep calf muscles healthy – do calf raises to strengthen them and stretches the loosen these muscles
- Avoid muscle fatigue in the legs – when muscles fatigue, weight distribution shifts and the bone takes increased weight and impact
- Don’t shift from soft trails to hard surfaces rapidly
- Wear shoes with good shock absorbance
When the foot is not stable and lands in an uncontrolled way, runner’s knee can develop. It can also be caused by a biomechanical issue such as the patella being larger on the outside than it is on the inside, or a patella that easily dislocates. Worn cartilage in the knee joint also reduces shock absorption. High-arched feet can be a culprit as well as flat feet.
To prevent runner’s knee, follow these tips:
- Run on soft surfaces
- Do not increase mileage more than 10 percent per week
- Gradually increase hill work
- Go to a specialty running shoe store to get fitted for the proper shoes for your foot and gait
- Incorporate exercises that strengthen the quadriceps muscles to improve patellar tracking
- Stretch your hamstrings and calves to prevent over-pronation (too much inward rolling of the foot)