Running and jogging are two of the most accessible forms of exercise for all ages and ability levels, from amateur runners to high-level athletes. But as most runners know, almost everyone may eventually experience a number of common running injuries that can sideline them and require some form of treatment.
While it’s an excellent form of exercise and training routine, there’s no escaping one simple fact: running is a repetitive movement that places continued stress on certain areas of the body, particularly the feet, ankles, knees, and legs.
According to the Sport & Fitness Industry Association, more than 50 million people in 2020 engaged in running or jogging. That potentially adds up to a lot of running injuries.
Experienced runners and athletes pay close attention to their bodies, and they usually know when something doesn’t feel quite right.
Understanding proper techniques, wearing the right gear and, perhaps most importantly, recognizing and addressing any type of running injury at the outset will help keep runners on the track, road, or trail for years to come.
What are the Most Common Running Injuries?
It’s not an overstatement to say that avid runners can log thousands of miles per year, but even novice runners may underestimate the toll that repetitive foot strikes can take on the body’s soft-tissue, joints, and muscles.
According to a study in 2019 by the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, the areas of the body with the highest number of running injuries include:
- Knee injuries (28%)
- Ankle and foot injuries (26%)
- Shank injuries (16%)
8 of the Most Common Running Injuries
1. Achilles Tendonitis
The Achilles tendon attaches the calf muscle to the heel. If this tendon becomes inflamed or irritated, it can severely limit a person’s range of motion. At first, the problem may be easy to ignore because the pain may dissipate as the body warms up, but that doesn’t mean the problem has been solved.
There are two types Achilles Tendonitis injuries – “insertional” and “non-insertional” – with the latter usually affecting younger runners.
Symptoms of Insertional Achilles Tendonitis can include pain or a dull ache above the heel, swelling, redness, or warm to the touch on the actual tendon. A limited range of motion due to pain when flexing the foot toward the shin can be a familiar symptom too.
2. Runner’s Knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)
Runner’s Knee, known medically as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, is a condition that refers to pain at the front of the knee, around the kneecap area.
Similar to Jumper’s Knee, this type of running injury is often the result of overuse or repetitive movements in sports that involve running and jumping.
Hip weakness may exacerbate the issue for some people by leading to poor technique and increasing the likelihood of developing runner’s knee.
Typical symptoms usually include pain in one or both knees that ranges from mild to severe, and tends to worsen with increased activity, or even prolonged periods of sitting. Movements like squats, jumps, or stair climbing may also cause pain.
3. IT Band Syndrome (Iliotibial Band)
The IT Band (Iliotibial Band) runs the length of the outer leg, from the hip to the knee and helps stabilize the knee when exercising.
This band of soft-tissue can become inflamed when it continuously comes into contact with the leg bone during running. Poor core strength or weak gluteal muscles and hips can exacerbate the issue.
The symptoms of IT band syndrome can include tenderness to the touch, pain when bending the knee, and sharp aches and pains above the knee on the outside of the leg.
4. Shin Splints
Shin Splints is one of the most common running injuries that most runners or joggers are familiar with, or have experienced at some time. This type of injury causes pain on the lower front of the leg along the shinbone.
One particularly prevailing cause for developing shin splints is running on hard surfaces like concrete, especially with poor fitting or severely worn running shoes.
Typical shin splints symptoms include swelling, tenderness, pain along the shinbone, and greater discomfort with exercise.
5. Plantar Fasciitis
The thick layer of connective tissue on the bottom of the foot is referred to as fascia, which is something of a spring cushion for people who walk or run. Regular running, especially over the long-term can cause the fascia to get irritated or start to degenerate, which can lead to a problem known as Plantar Fasciitis.
Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis usually include pain that gradually worsens over time, and may be most painful in the mornings when the foot is not warmed up.
Prolonged standing, walking, or running can cause pain in the foot, under the mid-foot, and into the heel. Some people experience this condition as warmth or a burning on the bottom of the foot.
6. Stress Fractures
Stress Fractures are running injuries that create hairline cracks in the bone, and are generally the result of repetitive stress, though sudden trauma can cause stress fractures as well.
For many runners and joggers, stress fractures tend to develop in places like the top of the foot, lower leg, and the heel.
Symptoms of stress fractures can include bruising, swelling, and tenderness in a specific area, as well as pain that may seem simply annoying at first, but worsens over time and hurts even when there’s no physical activity.
7. Ankle Sprain
Most people, even if they don’t run or jog, are familiar with an ankle sprain. This type of running injury is usually the result of rolling the outer part of the ankle and foot, which produces overstretched and damaged ligaments between the ankle and leg.
Sprains can range from mild to severe and may include bruising, swelling, pain, and limited range of motion. A severe ankle sprain that causes a tendon tear or takes a long time to heal can lead to something more serious like ankle tendonitis, also known as Peroneal Tendonitis.
8. Hamstring Injuries
There are a number of different hamstring injuries, from partial tears to strains, or even hamstring tendonitis. Runners commonly experience hamstring strains that come on gradually, causing micro-tears in the soft, connective tissue of the hamstring muscle.
Symptoms may start as simply as a dull ache in the hamstring that might even abate with a change in activity levels. When left untreated, the small tears may be irritated and can become inflamed and tender to the touch.
Many runners with undiagnosed hamstring injuries may just feel like the back of the leg is stiff or weak without realizing they have developed an injury from running.
How to Prevent Running Injuries
There are many ways to prevent running injuries and avoid treatment and unnecessary downtime. Here are some important tips to remember:
- Warm up and cool down before every run
- Increase running distances and speed gradually
- Wear proper shoes designed for running
- Replace running shoes every 400 to 600 miles
- Strive to improve running technique
- Run on softer surfaces than concrete whenever possible
- Jogging or running on flat surfaces is best for reducing injuries
- Run during the day instead of at night if possible
- Dry conditions are better than running in the rain
- Do exercises to strengthen the hip and calf muscles
- Alternate run days, or take days off from running during the week instead of running every day
- Take a break from running at the first sign of pain or an injury
Of course nobody likes to take time off from running once they get in a groove.
But realizing that time off can prevent an injury from getting worse and offers a faster return than struggling through a long recovery is a good incentive for resting every once in a while.
How Are Common Running Injuries Treated?
Treating running injuries is important for both longevity and good physical stamina.
Often, the mentality is simply to continue working through the pain. While that might seem admirable, the majority of runners are doing it for their health, not for any competitive advantage or reward.
So, acknowledging when running injuries appear and seeking the best treatment approach will usually result in the quickest possible return to running or jogging.
7 Treatment Methods for Running Injuries
1. RICE Method
The RICE Method involves Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This approach to running injuries is typically the first step when a runner notices pain in any area of the body.
Though it might seem basic, just giving the body a break by resting can do wonders for healing an injury before it progresses.
Applying ice to the injury for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, three to four times per day can reduce swelling and pain.
Compression with a bandage wrap will keep the injured area in place and help with inflammation. Elevating an injured foot or knee above the heart while laying down can minimize swelling.
2. Anti-Inflammatory Pain Medications
Over-the-counter, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) should be used as directed to help reduce pain and inflammation, while resting the injured area.
3. Physical Therapy for Running Injuries
Physical Therapy can be useful for injuries like a sprained ankle, stress fractures, and many others. Physical therapists can improve movement, strength, and mobility through stretching exercises or physical activities. Some types of massage may be used for certain injuries.
Sports therapists can also educate runners on proper running techniques, and offer advice about wearing appropriate gear that will lessen the likelihood of further injury.
4. EPAT Therapy (ESWT Shockwave)
EPAT Therapy (Extracorporeal Pulse Activation Technology) is an effective, non-invasive treatment method that speeds up the healing time for many types of running injuries.
EPAT is a treatment approach that delivers impulse pressure waves deep into the injured area to reduce inflammation, increase blood flow, and help form new blood vessel growth.
It is also known as Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT), or simply Shockwave Therapy, and can be administered while a person is in the rest phase of RICE, during physical therapy, or even while a person is trying to maintain peak running performance.
Many college and professional athletic teams, sports medicine professionals, and podiatrists use EPAT Shockwave Therapy for treating and healing injuries because it allows players and patients to recovery more quickly.
5. Steroid Injections
In very specific cases, some physicians may suggest steroid injections for running injuries, because corticosteroids are a very powerful anti-inflammatory medication.
However, this minimally invasive procedure can cause serious side effects, such as damaging the surrounding healthy soft-tissue and may actually increase the chances of further injury.
Most runners will fare better in seeking alternatives to steroid shots because they are only a temporary fix.
6. Walking Cast or Boot
A Walking Cast or Boot offers an easy and convenient way of immobilizing some injuries like stress fractures or a sprained ankle. This allows the injury time to heal properly without moving or putting any pressure on it during recovery.
Walking boots can be purchased online or in many pharmacies, and they can be worn or removed whenever necessary, unlike a traditional cast.
Surgery is reserved for the most serious of running injuries, like knee or ankle reconstruction that are often limited to professional athletes. Needless to say, this is the most invasive approach is not recommended unless absolutely necessary because of the inherent risks. Even successful surgery involves significant downtime for the healing process.
Practicing injury prevention measures before they happen can be an effective way to reduce the chances of running injuries from ever occurring.
But as most runners and joggers know, if you log enough miles, the probability is high that almost everyone will develop some type of injury due to running.
If an injury does occur, most of these treatment methods can help ease the pain and decrease the recovery time.