The top five running injuries – and how to beat them

Mother and daughter running in the woods.

The top five running injuries – and how to beat them

If you’re a keen runner there’s every chance you’ve had a frustrating lay off due to injury at some point.

This isn’t surprising when you consider that when we run, and our foot hits the hard surface of a cambered road, our body has to absorb a force greater than three times our bodyweight.
Not surprisingly, problems tend to affect the lower limbs. It helps to know as much as you can about these problems, so you can spot the symptoms, make a speedy recovery and prevent them from happening again.

1 Runner’s Knee

The stress of running can cause irritation where the kneecap (patella) rests on the thighbone. The resulting pain can be sharp and sudden or dull and ongoing, and may disappear while running only to return again afterwards.
While biomechanical issues may be to blame, the condition can stem from weak quadriceps and tight hamstrings. Weak quads aren’t able to support the patella, leading it to track out of alignment, and inflexible hamstrings can put pressure on the knee.

Runners World suggests this three-step quadriceps exercise to work the muscles on the front, inside and outside of your thigh. Do 10 reps of each part on both legs.

Front thigh: Lie on your back with an ankle weight on the right leg. Fully extend that leg and lock out your knee. Keeping the foot relaxed, lift your leg straight up toward your head as far as you can, your goal being to position your leg perpindicular to your body. Return to starting position.
Inner thigh: Do the same exercise, but this time, turn out your right leg (toes pointing away from you) to target the inner thigh muscles.
Outer thigh: Repeat the same exercise again with your right leg turned in (toes pointing toward you) to isolate the muscles of your outer thigh.

2 Illio tibial band syndrome

This usually appears as a pain on the outerside of the knee joint and can radiate up the thigh and is exacerbated by running. It can make going up or down stairs uncomfortable, and is a particular niggle for women because of the increased angle from hip to ankle.
It’s a problem which is aggravated by excessive training, so if pain strikes reduce your training load and avoid downhill running and running on cambered surfaces. Stop running if the pain is severe and switch to swimming, spinning or pool running.
Increased pronation (rolling) of the foot can aggravate the IT band when running. Motion control running shoes can be effective in reducing excessive pronation, or consider a suportive insole or orthotic.
In the early stages an ice pack (try a bag of peas wrapped in a damp tea towel) applied to the side of the thigh can be effective (apply for 10 minutes every 2 hours) in the early stages, together with anti inflammatory tablets (ibuprofen), self and stretching.
One of the most effective is a spinal twist. Sit down, legs together in front of you.
Bend the right knee, keeping the leg bent take the right foot to the left side of the left knee and with a straight back hug the knee in towards the chest.
To increase the stretch, keep the right knee gently pulled towards the chest with the left hand, while slowly twisting the upper body round to the right planting your right hand on the ground as far round as you can twist and hold it there for 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side. You should feel the stretch deep into the hip and bottom muscles. Try to do the stretch two to three times a day.

3 Shin splints

This is a common term for pain in the shin region and can be due to several different conditions. One of the most is medial tibial stress syndrome.
This feels like a pain on the inner side of the shin during exercise but also at rest. It is important to get advice to distinguish it from other causes of shin pain such as compratment syndrome or a stress fracture.
The amount of stress placed on the shins can be minimised by wearing good supportive running shoes, and it’s possible with medial tibial syndrome, that it could be prevented by correcting problems such as flat feet with arch supports.
Most people respond well to rest, strengthening (try a set of slow heel drops off a step followed by slow heel rises onto the ball of the foot – hold and repeat) and stretching exercises, followed by a gradual return to running once symptoms subside.

4 Plantar fascilitis

Refers to inflammation of the plantar fascia (which runs most of the length of the sole of the foot), usually at the point where it attaches to the heel bone, making it a common cause of heel pain in runners. Pain covers the inside of the heel and radiates down the inside of the sole of the foot and is felt while running and when taking the first steps of the day.
Again, this usually stems from a foot which rolls too much (pronates), worn shoes, tight calves or high arches.
While the area is still painful ice can be applied (as above), and once pain has subsided stretching the area  (by looping a towel round the ball of the foot and pulling the toes toward the shin) is effective in encouraging tissues to align normally.

5 Achilles tendinitis

The achilles tendon is situated above the heel and forms the lower part of the calf muscle. Pain is made worse by running.
It can feel tender to the touch, can be very stiff in the morning and you may feel a lump (scar tissue) in the area. Causes include tight and tired calf muscles, excessive hill running or speed work, an increase in distance and poor stretching.
To heal, initially it means a rest from running and applying ice (as above) to reduce swelling, keeping the foot elevated where possible, then massagnig the area in semi-circles in all directions away from the knotted area at least twice a day until the lump goes. Don’t start running until you can do heel raises and jumping exercises without pain.

and finally…

Trainers are key to preventing injuries. They may not look worn, but experts say between 350 and 550 miles they should be replaced. In spite of a visible lack of wear, the shoe will have lost its shock absorption capacity and be starting to lose some of its stability.

That means a runner who runs around four days per week and runs approximately 3-5 miles per day will be running about 300-500 miles every six months. Runners who do more mileage each week need to replace their trainers more often than every six months.
Save the older pairs for when you’re off-road.