Whether it’s the result of poorly planned training or an unfortunate curse cast unto you by the Running Gods, these are, according to Jason Karp, PhD, creator of the Run-Fit Specialist certification and author of Running a Marathon For Dummies, the most common running injuries, and the proper treatment protocols for a speedy recovery.
According to Karp, Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome is “the fancy medical term for knee pain” and it accounts for about 25 percent of running-related injuries. Though, he makes a point to note that this does not mean running is “bad for your knees.” Symptoms include discomfort “behind, below, or around your patella” (the knee bone) that usually presents itself in gradual stages and that’s worsened while running or walking up and down stairs.
Karp says knee pain can be caused by a number of different factors, including “strength imbalances, weakness in the hip muscles, and excessive or insufficient pronation”, to name a few. For many runners, knee pain can be avoided by maintaining adequate lower body strength, especially in the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, and glutes. If this is an injury you’re already dealing with, in addition to strength training, Karp recommends using orthotics (especially if you over- or under-pronate), knee braces, and if necessary, reducing the amount of running you do and eliminating hills from your routes.
Runners experiencing pain near the outside of the knee are likely dealing with Iliotibial Band (IT band) Friction Syndrome, an injury that, according to Karp, represents about 12 percent of all running-related injuries. It’s attributed to several different causes, some of which include “excessive or abrupt increases in running mileage, excessive amounts of downhill running or unidirectional track running, stiff shoes, high-arched feet, and weakness in the hips and glute muscles”.
To treat IT band pain, Karp first recommends stretching the affected area (see exercise number 5 here) as well as icing, foam rolling, and if the pain is especially severe, taking a break from running until it no longer persists.
According to Karp, when compared with non-runners, runners are 30 times more likely to develop Achilles tendonitis and tendinosis. Tendonitis referrers to inflammation in the area while tendinosis refers to a breakdown of the tendon’s collagen fibers. Karp says that pain in the Achilles is typically the result of tendinosis. This injury is commonly due to inappropriate increases in mileage, excessive amounts of interval training, hill running, weakness or a lack of flexibility in the calf muscles, over pronation, or insufficient recovery time between workouts.
To treat tendonitis and tendinosis in the Achilles, Karp especially recommends taking your training down a few notches. “Back off on the types of workouts that put extra stress on the Achilles tendon, such as interval training and hill running,” he writes. He also suggests icing the area, strengthening your calf muscles, and if you over-pronate, investing in a new pair of shoes that offer more medial support.
This extremely common running injury, which is usually most pronounced during the first few steps after getting out of bed in the morning, is similar to Achilles tendinosis in that it is a breakdown of the small muscle fibers on the bottom of your foot. Runners suffering from plantar fasciitis will most likely experience pain in the heel or arch of the foot.
Karp warns that this injury can be especially stubborn, so his first recommendation for treatment is to rest; reduce the volume and intensity of your training. He also suggests strengthening and stretching your calf muscles, gently massaging your feet with a golf or tennis ball, and wearing a tension splint overnight, which will hold your foot in a flexed position in order to stretch the bottom of your foot.
Karp says that shin splints are one of the most common injuries among novice runners who are new to the sport. This is because their bones aren’t accustomed to the impact of running. Shin splints are described as pain felt along the inner border of the tibia, or your shin bone. According to Karp this is not a serious injury, but if left untreated shin splints could lead to a stress fracture, which is much more dangerous.
Like many other common running injuries, shin splints can result from increasing workout mileage or intensity too quickly, but they’re also sometimes a result of running on hard surfaces (like concrete), excessive pronation, and tight calf muscles. Many times shin splints will heal on their own, but Karp suggests treating the discomfort by icing the area and taking preventative measures by strengthening your lower body muscles (especially the calves) and investing in sneakers with “shock-absorbing characteristics”.
While the stress our bones experience from running actually helps to strengthen them, a stress fracture (a hairline fracture in a bone) can occur when the “bone remodeling” process is disrupted and the bone can no longer adapt to the stress.
Similar to other common running injuries, stress fractures are often the result of increasing mileage too quickly and not allowing for adequate recovery time between workouts. However, they can also occur due to low bone mineral density as a result of osteoporosis or a calcium or vitamin D deficiency. Karp warns that female runners are at a higher risk for stress fractures due to factors such as low estrogen levels, an inadequate caloric intake, and a lack of muscle mass in the lower leg.
Symptoms present in the form of a “gradual onset of pain”, usually experienced near the end of a running workout. The pain is typically sharp and felt at a specific point on the bone where swelling can sometimes occur. If diagnosed with a stress fracture, Karp says it’s absolutely necessary to stop all running for anywhere from four to eight weeks. He also recommends icing the area, exercising to strengthen the muscles that surround the joints located above and below the fracture site, and as a preventative measure, supplementing with vitamin D, especially when training for a long-distance race.
According to Karp, chronic muscle strain, or a “partial tearing of the muscle” due to “excessive tension”, is the most common muscle injury among runners. He says this is typically the result of long-distance running and muscle weakness. Described as “a gradual onset of pain coming from deep within the muscle”, a chronic muscle strain will usually first present itself after a running workout, but will eventually become bothersome while running, too. You will also experience pain by pressing the affected area, where you’ll likely feel a “hard knot”. Karp says that in addition to rest, the only treatment proven to be effective is deep tissue massage.