Whether you’re a serial ultra-marathoner or you’ve just started training for your first 5k, it’s important to know how to stay healthy and avoid running injuries. They’re painful, they’re frustrating, and most of the time, they’re totally avoidable. Here are the 7 most common running injuries, and ways to avoid them.
1. Shin Splints
It sounds like an odd injury, sore shins, but shin splints are nothing to shrug off. If you’re prone to this running injury, strengthen your shins with a simple (but admittedly goofy-looking) exercise: walk on your heels, with your toes pointing up. Since this running injury most often occurs when new runners run too hard, too soon, another way to avoid shin splints would be to ramp up your run more slowly. Don’t push yourself too hard — aim to increase your distance no more than 10% per week, over the week before.
2. Piriformis Syndrome
Ouch! This running injury is quite literally a pain in the butt… and it can spread to other parts of your body, including your legs and lower back. The key to avoid this running injury is to run on even ground, and to stretch your hamstrings after a run.
3. Hamstring Pull
This is probably the most common running injury, tied at first with calf muscle strains. Both are simple enough to avoid by stretching your muscles properly after a run. While the jury is still out on stretching before a run, most sports medicine doctors agree that stretching the backs of your legs after a run, while muscles are “warm,” is an important way to avoid running injuries.
4. Runner’s Knee
Proper shoes and a soft running surface are key to preventing this common running injury, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome. We women are much more susceptible to it than men (thank you, wider hips) but the avoidance and treatment are nearly identical: exercises to strengthen the quadriceps, a slower pace, tackling fewer hills, stretching warmed muscles, and a slower increase in running distances. And remember, the right running shoes and the right surface are important, too!
5. Iliotibial-band Syndrome
If you have pain and swelling on the outside of your knee, you might assume you have a knee injury, which could be the case… or you could have an injury to your iliotibial band, the ligament that runs down the outside of your leg from your hip to your shin. This running injury is very common, but it can be avoided by lessening the stress on the band, by replacing worn shoes, running on a more even surface, and even by just limiting the distance you run downhill. This is another running injury women tend to suffer from more than men, and again, it’s thought to happen because our hips are wider, which means our legs tilt in more than men’s when we run. Curses!
6. Plantar Fasciitis
Whether you have a high arch or a flat foot, you’re at risk for this running injury, and wow, does it hurt! Every step makes the bottom of your foot tender and sore, and the pain can be sharp stabbing or just a dull, relentless ache. You can avoid this often chronic injury by wearing running shoes that provide the right arch support for your foot, and by running on more even surfaces. Also, a sudden weight loss or gain can cause this running injury, so if you’re running to help lose weight, be careful not to run too much, too soon… gradually increase your runs so you’re not running more than 10% father than you did last week.
7. Stress Fracture
This injury isn't unique to running, striking other athletes, too. The symptoms range from slight pain to unendurable pain and swelling, so listen to your body. If you have unexplained pain and/or swelling, tell your doctor and ask for an X-ray. Better to be safe than sorry, and risk a more serious fracture!
All of these running injuries are wicked, but none of them necessarily spell the end of your running… prevention is key, along with early and proper diagnosis and physical therapy… and did you notice how many of them are avoided by simply wearing the right shoes, and by running on an even surface? Remember to listen to your body, and don’t push too hard! Follow these tips for avoiding these running injuries, and you might just be unstoppable! Have you ever had any of these common running injuries, and if so, how did you repair it, and move on? Do tell!
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