The 7 Most Common Running Injuries and How to Avoid Them

Running is one of the best exercises in the world and one of the worst. It is easy to slip on a pair of shoes and run out the door. Yet it is so easy to run out of breath in two minutes, cramp in the first half-mile, or develop a knee injury in just a few days. 

This post will cover the 7 most common running injuries – why they happen, how to avoid them, and the kind of treatment they require.

Injury Risk Factors in Running

Injury risk factors for running are the traits and practices that more often lead to running injuries.  You can avoid some of these higher risk factors altogether, while others are a necessary part of the sport.

Previous Use of Orthotics

Running shoes with neutral support is best for beginner runners – and most runners – because they allow you to run using your unique physiology. Orthotics are like a crutch or a band-aid. They may relieve pain temporarily, but they are not addressing the root of the problem. 

If you experience pain or injury while running, that is a sign that something is wrong with your form or technique. Orthotics can change your run because they constrict you from using your natural technique. 

Running on Concrete

Humans are not meant to run exclusively on concrete, especially in padded running shoes. Concrete is not bouncy or forgiving like a hiking trail, dirt, or grass. Running is a high-impact sport, and running on concrete can exacerbate those forces. 

Try to avoid running exclusively on concrete. Run on trails, paths, sidewalks, or anywhere in nature. We recommend running on soft-surface trails or hiking at least once per week to build up your stabilizer muscles which help prevent injury. 

Running Only Once per Week

With each run, your body reinforces the proper running form with neuromuscular connections – these are mind-to-muscle connections that allow your muscles to fire in a specific way. These connections don’t last forever, so you should reactivate them more than once per week. If too much time goes by, your mind and body will have to relearn proper running form with each run, putting you at greater injury risk. 

Running Too Much Too Soon

Overtraining is one of the major causes of injury in running, especially for beginners. Taking things slow and gradually building up your training over time is essential. 

Start with two runs per week and focus on perfecting your running form. Once you feel ready for the next step, add high-intensity intervals to your training once per week. Don’t increase your weekly training miles by more than 10% in a week.

Primarily Participating in Non-Axial Sports

Non-axial sports are also known as unidirectional sports or sports where you only move in one direction. This includes cycling, swimming, and running, which only require one direction of movement. 

Multi-axial sports like basketball or soccer can help strengthen your stabilizer muscles and lower body joints. 

Running 50k or More per Week

Heavy run training is something you need to build up to, not something you can accomplish in a few weeks. The average runner takes hundreds or thousands of strides during each run, and with each stride comes the impact of their foot on the ground. 

You can quickly develop a running injury if a tiny detail is out of balance. Take your time when building up your training, and focus on quality over quantity. 

Wearing the Same Running Shoes for Longer than Four Months

Once your running shoes are worn out, all the injury-protection qualities of the shoe are gone. We recommend replacing your running shoes after 3-4 months or earlier if you run more than three times per week. 

7 Most Common Running Injuries

It is extremely common to get injured when you first start running – as we’ve discussed, 40-70% of runners get injured within a given year. 

Many injuries are more common than others, and almost every runner will experience some. Most running injuries are overuse injuries or related injuries to overtraining or inadequate rest. Here are the eight most common running injuries and how to treat them. 

1. Shin Splints

Shin splints (also called medial tibial stress syndrome) are a type of running injury commonly caused by overuse and are characterized by pain and tenderness along the tibia (the large bone in your lower leg).

Beginner runners are more likely to develop shin splints since their leg muscles aren’t as developed or accustomed to the stress that’s placed on them while running. 

Prevention and Treatment

Increase your running cadence (also called your step rate). This subtle tweak to your running reduces stride length, thereby minimizing the impact on your tibia. Also, ensure you wear proper running shoes that offer adequate support to reduce the impact on your legs and minimize your chances of developing shin splints.

The best thing you can do if you’re suffering from shin splints is to allow for adequate healing time. If you continue to run without allowing your legs to heal, shin splints can progress into stress fractures.  Rest for 7 to 10 days minimum for proper recovery. Treatment options for shin splints include ice massages, ultrasound therapy, wearing compression stockings, leg strengthening exercises, and stretching.

2. Sprained Ankle

This injury occurs when one or more ligaments on the outer side of the ankle are either stretched, partially torn, or (worst-case scenario) completely torn.

The most common cause of sprained ankles is turning the ankle while running or walking. Sometimes this is minor and you may turn your ankle, shake it off, and continue your run. Other sprains are more severe and will cause pain and swelling after the incident.

Prevention and Treatment

Do exercises that strengthen the muscles and ligaments around your ankle and increase your flexibility, balance, and coordination. For example, you can do ankle circles, ankle alphabet, calf raises, shin raises, and single-leg balance exercises.

If you do roll your ankle and sustain a sprain, address the issue right away by compressing the ankle, wrapping it with a bandage, and icing the injury to keep swelling down. Be sure to rest for at least a few days or however long it takes until your ankle feels strong enough to run again.

3. Pulled Muscle

Hamstring muscle injuries are among the most common injuries in athletes and usually occur while running.  Other muscles often affected by this type of injury are the quadriceps, calf, and groin.

Prevention and Treatment

Most muscle strain injuries can be resolved with adequate rest and strength training. A proper warm-up before running also can prevent you from pulling a muscle.  Weaker muscles are more susceptible to muscle pulls than stronger ones. Following a strength training routine will make your muscles stronger and more resistant to pulls.

4. IT Band Syndrome

When you bend and extend your leg repeatedly, such as while running, your IT band moves over your thigh bone. Over time, this movement can place excessive strain on your IT band and lead to pain in the hips or knees.

IT band syndrome tends to be caused by weak gluteus (buttock) muscles. This type of injury is prevalent in women because their wider hips stress the IT band, irritating inflamed tissue.

Prevention and Treatment

Wrap an ice pack in a towel and ice the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. You can also use a foam roller along the front and back of your thighs and on your outer hips. Do this daily to keep the muscles your IT band attaches to lengthened and to reduce excessive pulling on your hips and knees.

Avoid running on uneven surfaces, wear appropriate running shoes, and do exercises that strengthen your glutes, core, and hips to take the strain off your IT bands.

5. Runner’s Knee

The runner’s knee is a dull, aching pain located at the front of the knee. Some runners may experience pain and a rubbing, grinding or clicking sound at their kneecap.

A sudden increase in the volume or intensity of training, inadequate recovery time, and weak or tight quad muscles, thigh muscles, or hip muscles, can all lead to a runner’s knee. When the muscles surrounding your knee are weak or tight this can cause the knee joint to bear a larger stress burden with running. Also, an ankle, hip, or knee injury can change the knee’s biomechanics, eventually leading to a runner’s knee symptoms.

Prevention and Treatment

A  strength training routine to complement your running can help prevent and treat a runner’s knee. Excellent knee exercises for runners include bodyweight squats, single-leg squats, lunges, knee bends, and straight leg raises.

Avoid abrupt increases to your running volume and intensity and ramp them up gradually. Wear proper running shoes that will help with shock absorption and reduce knee impact. Also, focusing on running cadence with a high turnover rate will minimize ground contact time.

Runner’s knee exercises
Image result for Runners knee exercises
Image result for Runners knee exercises
Image result for Runners knee exercisesKnee exercises for runners
  • Knee bends – 3 sets of 10 repetitions (reps) …
  • Thigh contraction – 3 sets of 15 seconds with each leg. …
  • Straight leg raises – 3 sets of 10 reps with each leg. …
  • Hamstring stretch with thigh contraction – 3 sets of 15 seconds with each leg. …
  • ITB (iliotibial band) – 3 sets of 15 seconds with each leg.

6. Stress Fracture

These are tiny hairline cracks that form in load-bearing bones that are caused by repetitive force. This injury often occurs when running mileage is increased too quickly and your bones aren’t ready for the high impact of running regularly.

Bone density conditions put certain people at greater risk for stress fractures, as well as insufficient nutrition.  To help prevent stress fractures, eat a healthy diet with lots of nutrients to keep your body and muscles happy, including calcium and vitamin D.

Prevention and Treatment

The best thing you can do is rest and avoid running or any high-impact activity on the affected bone. Continuing to run with a stress fracture can affect your running form and lead to further injury.

Plus, you can prevent stress fractures by eating a diet high in calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients are essential for bone health, and getting enough of them from whole foods and supplementation can increase your bone density naturally.

Treatment depends on the location of the stress fracture. Most stress fractures will heal if you reduce your level of activity and wear protective footwear for 2 to 4 weeks. Your doctor may recommend that you wear a stiff-soled shoe, a wooden-soled sandal, or a removable short-leg fracture brace shoe.

7. Plantar Fasciitis

The plantar fascia is a band of tissue in the bottom of your foot that helps you move. Plantar fasciitis is when this band of tissue becomes inflamed.

Causes include a drastic increase in mileage, specific foot structures, tight calf muscles, improper footwear, and strength imbalances.

Prevention and Treatment

Increase your mileage gradually. If you want to reduce the impact on your feet and prevent injury, you should reduce your stride length and increase your running cadence.

You can improve the strength of your feet, heels, and legs by doing exercises without shoes. To relieve pain in your foot, massage the bottom of it with a lacrosse ball and roll out your calves with a foam roller. This will help blood flow to the affected area and loosen tight calf muscles.

Post-Injury Return to Running Program

Option 1: Keep Moving After an Injury

After an injury, you can keep “training,” at a very easy rate. We recommend keeping your body and mind moving – not only will this help maintain some level of fitness, but it will also improve your mental health during a tough period. 

Post-injury, all of your training should be done at a 4 out of 10 on the pain scale. If your pain level crosses that threshold, it’s time to stop and rest. 

4/10 Training to Return to Training

Brodie Sharpe of the Run Smarter Physiotherapy Clinic & Podcast recommends this option for runners returning from injury. If you can’t run, then walk, he says. The longer that you spend not running, the longer it takes for you to get back to your previous running speed and fitness. 

Over time, you can gradually return to running using the 4/10 pain scale. As your injury heals, you will be able to do a little bit more walking or running each week. Remember to monitor your symptoms and take it slow – soon you’ll be back up to full speed. 

There are many different kinds of pain scales, but a common one is a numerical scale from 0 to 10. Here, 0 means you have no pain; one to three means mild pain; four to seven is considered moderate pain; eight and above is severe pain

Describing Your Pain With a 0-10 Pain Scale May Be Messing ...

Option 2: Complete Break From Running After an Injury

Sometimes there is no option but to rest after an injury. If your pain persists or you’ve seen a doctor or physical therapist, sometimes the best prescription is to take a break from running. But don’t worry, there are still many different forms of physical therapy that you can do before you get back to running. 

Number 1 on the list is strength training – one of the best ways to prevent running injuries is also one of the best ways to return to running. Strength training will help balance out your muscles from your hip to your heel, as well as your core and upper body. 

Cross-Training to Return From Injury

Many injured runners are still able to complete other forms of cardiovascular training such as cycling or swimming. If you have the means, you can even do some water running to help heal your injury and maintain running fitness. 

Cycling, for example, is a non-weight-bearing activity, which means that you can ride without the repetitive pounding of each and every foot strike in running. If you’re coming back from a serious or chronic running injury, make sure to check with your doctor or physical therapist to see if you have the green light for other forms of cardiovascular training. 


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