Common Running Injuries & How To Avoid Them: Runner’s Knee, Shin Splits, and More

No matter how long you’ve been a runner, you’ve probably experienced some kind of pain associated with running at some point in time. Knee pain, ankle pain, hip pain, shin pain, and lower back pain after running are all common issues that runners deal with. What kind of pain needs to be treated, and how can you avoid running injuries? It all starts with a little education to understand what types of injuries runners tend to experience.

Runner’s Knee

Knee pain after running is so common, it has coined its own name “Runner’s Knee”. Runner’s knee occurs as a result of irritation of the cartilage beneath the kneecap. Symptoms tend to appear during and after longer runs, after sitting for long periods, or when going downstairs or steep hills. The condition results from stresses to the knee most often caused by weak quads and glutes, or overpronation (which occurs when your foot rolls inward).

The best way to avoid this pain is three-fold: start with good shoes that support your feet and correct overpronation. Spend some time in the weight room building your quads and glutes as well as your foot intrinsics and consider swimming, bicycling, or elliptical training to build your weak muscles and support your knees. Most importantly, learn to run with proper form to prevent unnecessary stress on your knees.

Achilles Tendonitis

Your Achilles tendon connects the two larger calf muscles to the back of your heel. If too much stress is placed on this tendon, it can tighten and become irritated. Sudden increases in your running activity (especially those involving hills and speedwork) can contribute to the pain, and weak calf muscles can also cause tendonitis.

The best way to avoid Achilles tendonitis is to strengthen your calves and keep the tendon flexible.  Try heel drops, and perform stretches daily to loosen the tendon, avoiding aggressive calf-stretches. You should also throw out your flip flops to help prevent further irritation to your Achilles tendon.

Plantar Fasciitis

If you are suffering from foot pain after running, Plantar Fasciitis may be to blame. Plantar fasciitis results from small tears or inflammation in the tendons and fascia that stretch from the heel to the toes. Most people experience a dull ache like a bruise along the arch of the foot or on the bottom inside area of the heel. Extreme pronation or supination (rolling of the foot either in or out) can contribute to the pain, as can long periods of standing on hard surfaces. Tight hip flexors, weak core muscles, and lower back pain can also contribute to the condition.

The best way to address plantar fasciitis starts with good, supportive footwear. Special athletic tape support or prefabricated orthotic can further help to correct the issue. Spend some time strengthening your foot musculature to promote a good, supportive running posture, and you should always do some gentle, range-of-motion stretching before and after running to loosen up your hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves.

Shin Splints

Shin splints occur when you create small tears in the muscles around your shin bone and is the most common cause of shin pain after running. They are most common among new runners and runners who are returning to activity after a long break. Usually, they are a sign that you have progressed too quickly, but they can also result from poor footwear. Remember to start slowly when you begin a new running regimen and make sure that your footwear has been properly designed for your foot and how you run. A prefabricated orthotic can further help correct issues stemming from your shoes.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)

Your iliotibial band stretches along the outside of your thigh from the hip to the knee. Running can cause the IT band to rub against the side of the femur, causing irritation. The condition can be a result of overpronation, leg-length discrepancies, or weak hip abductor or gluteal muscles. ITBS also appears in runners who are training too hard. Ignoring the pain associated with ITBS can make it significantly worse.

Make a point to mobilize the IT band regularly, and make an effort to strengthen your abductors and glutes. Side lunges and squats are great ways to target these muscles. As always, the mantra of healthy running is “find supportive, properly fitted footwear,” and the same applies here.

Stress Fractures

Stress fractures result from cumulative strain on a bone. Many runners exhibit stress fractures in their shins, feet, or heels. Your bones need time to rest after a workout so that they can strengthen, just like your muscles. While stress fractures can be a sign of systemically weak bones, most often they occur because runners train too much too quickly, without allowing the bones to rest adequately between sessions.

Weight training, activity modification, and diet are the most effective ways to increase bone density and prevent stress fractures. Make sure you get enough protein and calcium to support your training regime and consider taking a day between runs to exercise in the weight room to build bones and muscles. If you experience a stress fracture, it’s important to stop activity for a while and let it heal. Pushing through the pain can result in long term damage, making you more prone to a more severe fracture.

The most effective way to avoid injuries associated with running is to learn to run properly and practice good form. If you are a long-term runner looking to avoid injury or a first-time runner who wants to make sure you get off to a good start, our Run Better program at Move Better Physical Therapy can help. Contact us at 434-817-0980 to learn more about how we can help you run without pain or decrease your risk for injury.