The 6 Most Common Running Injuries & How to Prevent ThemJune 13, 2022 - Katie McCallum
With everything it takes to keep up with an exercise routine, the last thing you need is for a running injury to throw a wrench in your plans.
"Running injuries are typically joint issues that arise in the lower extremities," says Dr. Alysia Robichau, a sports medicine doctor at Houston Methodist. "They can happen in both beginners and experienced runners, and they're fairly common, especially if you're not taking steps to prevent them."
6 common running injuries
The most common reasons for a runner to be sidelined aren't tied to a specific event or moment, like twisting your ankle on uneven terrain.
Rather, they're overuse injuries that develop over time due to issues like ramping up your mileage too quickly, improper running form, not giving your body adequate time to recover, having tight or weak muscles and wearing improper footwear.
The most common running injuries, as well as what signals each, include:
- Runner's knee – dull pain around the front of the knee, felt either while active or after sitting for a long time
- IT band syndrome – aching or burning pain on the outside of the knee (which may extend up to the hip), typically felt when active
- Shin splints – pain at the front or inner-facing portion of your lower legs that worsens with activity
- Plantar fasciitis – pain at or near the bottom of the heel, typically felt after activity (not during) or early the next morning.
- Achilles Tendinitis – pain in the lower leg just above the heel that may be accompanied by restricted motion when attempting to lift your toes
- Stress fracture – pain or aching (usually in the shin or foot) that's felt during activity and that worsens over time
What can you do to prevent running injuries?
Though common, these overuse injuries aren't an inevitability of running.
And, luckily, the steps needed to prevent one type of running injury apply to all the rest of them, too.
Here are eight habits that Dr. Robichau says can help keep runners free from injury.
1. Have a plan and progress slowly
Any time you have a running-related goal in mind, whether it's running a marathon or simply adding mileage to your weekend run, your first question should be: How can I get there without mistreating my body?
"There has to be a plan and a progression when it comes to a running program," says Dr. Robichau. "Any kind of physical activity that's advanced too quickly can lead to injuries."
As a general rule of thumb, Dr. Robichau says to increase your run mileage by no more than 10% a week, which is about a mile per week.
Add more than 10% a week and you risk overtaxing your muscles and joints, leading to inflammation and injury.
2. Don't increase speed and distance at the same time
Speaking of progressing slowly, focus on adding distance to your runs or quickening your pace, but Dr. Robichau warns against increasing both at the same time.
"Focus on one or the other," explains Dr. Robichau. "If you're trying to run both farther and faster, you're at risk for progressing too fast — putting yourself at highest risk for injury."
3. Give your muscles what they need to recover
What you do to recover after your run is just as important as exercise itself.
"Proper recovery doesn't just ensure your body is able to perform as desired on your next run, it helps prevent overuse injuries," says Dr. Robichau.
Giving your muscles time to rest is a big part of recovery, but so is eating healthy, staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep — all things you do to take care of your body.
And after really pushing yourself, recovery might also mean relaxing tight and sore muscles with at-home remedies such as:
- Ice and heat
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- Pain relief topicals and creams
- Massage therapy
- Foam rolling or using a massage gun
4. Know the difference between soreness and pain that signals injury
If your running goal is to challenge your body, Dr. Robichau says to prepare for some muscle soreness and discomfort — though the aforementioned remedies should provide relief.
But never ever ignore pain.
"You can expect to be somewhat uncomfortable for a few days after a run, especially if you're adding miles or quickening your pace," warns Dr. Robichau. "But sharp pain is never OK. Neither is pain that continues to linger."
If you're experiencing sharp pain or pain that doesn't improve after a week or two, Dr. Robichau stresses the importance of being evaluated.
"The last thing we want is for you to prolong an injury for months or years because you feel like it's something that should get better on its own," says Dr. Robichau. "Not only is that not always the case, some of these running injuries can progress into something even more severe."
5. Make time for cross-training
Running might be your priority, but it's important to recognize that limiting yourself to a single, repetitive type of exercise is an easy way to pick up an overuse injury.
"Cross-training with weights and core activities strengthens the muscles that support your body as you run," adds Dr. Robichau. "This not only helps you run better and longer, but also with less risk of injury."
In fact, if your goal is to quicken your pace, you might need to cross-train.
"Once you're starting to get under 10-minute miles, you need a lot more strength training to make sure your body is ready to encourage that speed without injury," says Dr. Robichau.
6. Don't discount the importance of quality running shoes
It seems that there's a shoe for every activity these days, which might make you question whether you really need running shoes.
But you should know that wearing improper shoes on a run can affect your normal foot movement and increase your risk of a running overuse injury.
Running shoes are designed to facilitate the natural movement and biomechanics of your foot, so it's worth investing in a pair if you run frequently or for long distances. (Related: 3 Missteps to Avoid When It Comes to Your Running Shoes)
"Make sure your running shoes fit — that they're tight enough, but not too tight," Dr. Robichau adds. "And be sure to replace them once they wear out."
Stretching helps keep your muscles long and flexible, reducing the amount of direct force they take on during a run. Additionally, a tight muscle is harder to move properly and effectively, which can lead to poor running form.
But there's debate around stretching. Do we stretch before a run or not?
"I still say yes, you should stretch before a run," warns Dr. Robichau. "However, stretching cold is never a good plan. I recommend doing a brief warm up — 25 high knees, 10 squats or 50 jumping jacks — and then stretching."
She adds that bouncing stretches are not the right approach.
"You'll want to stretch your muscles after your run, too, as part of your cooldown," says Dr. Robichau.
8. Take extra care if you suffer from arthritis
If you have arthritis, know that it can arise in any joint.
"Arthritis isn't caused by running, but it certainly is there underneath all the running," adds Dr. Robichau. "It's important to respect the added aggravation that might occur in your leg joints if you're an avid runner."