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Article Type: Blog

Top 3 Runner Injuries: Prevention & Treatment

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Injuries are a frequent occurrence among athletes, but runners seem to be a particularly injury prone group.  Because the motion of running is so repetitive, overuse injuries are common and can sideline runners for days, weeks, or even longer. 

While prevention is always the best medicine, recognizing and treating an injury in its earliest stages is the most effective way to get yourself back to what you love doing most.  While there is a lengthy list of injuries that runners suffer from, we’ll focus on the most common ones: Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS), Shin Splints, and Plantar Fasciitis. 

It’s our hope that understanding these injuries will help you nurture your whole health, and get the help you need when it needs some mending. 

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)

Where it Hurts: 

The IT Band is a thick piece of connective tissue that runs parallel to your femur from the outside of your hip to your knee. ITBS pain is felt at the end of the IT band where it attaches on the outside of the knee.

Why it Happens:

Most mistakenly believe that ITBS is a result of excessive friction, but the IT band is so thick that it barely moves. More likely, the source of the problem is weaknesses or training errors.

Sheila Klausner, a physical therapist with AdventHealth notes that this injury is usually caused by “running on angled surfaces, inappropriate footwear, weakness of hip muscles and/or tightness of hip and leg muscles can all contribute to this diagnosis.”

How to Prevent It:

Strength training is your best protection against ITBS. While running alone may make you aerobically fit, you need to support your aerobic engine with a strong body.  ITBS often feels like it comes on abruptly out of nowhere, but usually it is a result of overzealous training combined with a lack of strength work.  Bodyweight routines that focus on the glutes and hips, as well as compound movements at the gym like deadlifts and squats, are all excellent at helping prevent ITBS.

How to Treat It:

ITBS can be challenging to treat, but strength training can be immensely helpful in both the prevention and treatment process.  If you’re in pain, the first thing you’ll need to do is stop running.  Use the time away from running to focus on strength – hips and glutes are the primary focus, but strengthening other areas such as your core will also help you come back stronger.

Massage and trigger point work may also be helpful – while you want to avoid working on the areas that are painful, working on your quads, glutes and hamstrings with a foam roller can help expedite the recovery process.

Once it is no longer painful to walk or go downstairs, try a test run and then ease your way back in gradually.  Keep up with the strength work, and avoid increasing your mileage and workout intensity too quickly.

Shin Splints

Where it Hurts: 

Pain from shin splints can be felt in both the front, outer (anterior) portion of your shin, or on the medial portion on the inner side of your leg.  Medial shin splints are far more common.  Pain can progress from a mild ache felt only when running to continuous pain that is noticeable even at rest.

Why it Happens:

Shin splints are commonly the result of trying to do too much, too soon, before your body is prepared to handle the stress.  A sudden increase in mileage, hills, or speed work may all be to blame.  Klausner notes that “hip weakness, ankle weakness, calf tightness, improper footwear and bony abnormalities of the foot and ankle can all lead to this diagnosis of shin splints.”

How to Prevent It:

The misconception is that shin splints are a soft tissue injury, and that weak shin muscles are the source of pain.  But newer research shows that shin splints are a result of bone stress.  A healthy runner’s body will respond to the stress by making your tibia stronger and thicker, but in newer runners the body is less able to adapt quickly and appropriately.

What does this mean in terms of prevention? As a newer runner, it’s essential to increase your training gradually – too much, too soon is usually the culprit for shin splints.  Rotating your shoes and varying your running surfaces is also essential, even as a new runner, and be careful not to wear your shoes beyond their life cycle.

How to Treat It:

Once you have shin splints, tread carefully so you don’t end up dealing with the much more serious problem of a tibial stress fracture.  Pain in your shins is not a normal side effect of hard training, so it’s important to treat early and aggressively.  

Rest along with ice, compression, reduced mileage, and running on softer surfaces can help you get back on track.  Increasing your cadence to help you avoid over-striding will also help you land more lightly and reduce stress on the tibia.

Plantar Fasciitis

Where it Hurts: 

Pain from PF can be felt anywhere along the bottom of your foot, but typically it occurs close to your heel. A sharp or burning pain is usually most noticeable when you get out of bed in the morning. 

Why it Happens:

The plantar fascia is a piece of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot and supports your arch.  If this tissue isn’t strong enough to support the movement of your foot while running, the tissue will become chronically irritated.  Common causes of PF include significant overpronation, supination or extremely tight calves. Weak feet, hips and glutes can also contribute.  

How to Prevent It:

As with most running injuries, preventing PF is best done with a combination of sensible training and strength work.  Strengthening your feet may sound like a challenging task, but there are some easy ways to make it a part of your routine:  

  1. Run barefoot strides two to three times per week on a synthetic turf or smooth grass field. 
  2. Add some easy barefoot running at the end of a typical distance run. Limit yourself to two to 10 minutes depending on your fitness level and experience.
  3. Embrace your foam roller and golf ball. If you’re more sore than usual, spend five to 10 minutes rolling out the soreness. 
  4. Run more trails. The uneven surface stresses (and strengthens) your feet in many different ways, unlike the road.

How to Treat:

During the acute phase of PF, you’ll need to stop running. Ice will be your friend during this time – try to ice your affected foot for 15-20 minutes two to three times daily. 

While you’re not running, focus on some specific exercises to strengthen your feet, such as towel scrunches and picking up items with your toes. Once you have finished these, use a golf or lacrosse ball to roll out the bottom of your foot. In addition, use a foam roller to work out any tightness in your calf muscles, as this can aggravate PF. 

Klausner agrees that strengthening and flexibility are key to treating plantar fasciitis. “Stretching of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles and strengthening the small muscles deep in the foot can improve the balance of forces in the tissues. Picking up marbles, tissues or small things such as a sock can assist in foot strengthening.”

After seven to 10 days and no pain during normal activity, you can head out for a test run.  As you return to training, keep your runs short and flat to start and ease back into hills and higher mileage very gradually. 

With most running injuries, appropriate strength training can be a means of both prevention and treatment. Keep up your strength work during any down time from injury and as you resume running, and you’ll become a resilient and healthier runner.

If you’d like some expert guidance along your path, turn to your whole-health experts at AdventHealth. Find your physical therapist or sports medicine expert who can customize a plan for you to safely meet your fitness goals today

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