Top 5 Common Running Injuries and How to Avoid Them

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Unfortunately, injuries are part and parcel of every runner’s life. In this article, we look at the top 5 most common running injuries, what causes them, and how to prevent them happening to you.

Injuries are one of the only negatives about running

There isn’t much bad to say about running; it’s fantastic. It makes you fit, happy, healthy, gives you energy. If there was something bad to say, it’s that you can get injured whilst running. According to popular statics on injury prevalence if you’re a runner you have most likely had some form of running injury in the past year.

The annoying thing about running injuries is that they can sneak up on us and take us by surprise. Sure, you may feel great running one day without a care in the world only to have a sharp pain suddenly appear in your hamstrings with every step after the run finishes.

Our bodies wear out with use

Like a factory machine that experiences wear and tear in operation, running creates the same wear and tear affect to our bodies. Just like machines, we can ‘break down’ and be out of action for a while until we are suitably repaired.

The act of pounding the pavement during a run puts stress on our joints and muscles. The more we run, the more tension we put on our muscles, the more likely we are to encounter an injury.

Running injuries are surprisingly common

As frustrating as injuries are for runners, it’s surprising to know that they’re more common than we might think. 75% of runners face some form of sport-related injury over any 12-month period, many of which will negatively impact training progress e.g. needing to take some time out to recover.

If you want to learn about common running injuries and how to prevent them, you’re in the right place.

There will always be the risk of injury

Whilst running is one of the most pleasant and rewarding experiences in life, it isn’t without risks. The risk of injury is always going to be present for regular runners. Running is a high-impact sport you’re literally bouncing up and down from the floor to propel you forward. Of course, there’s going to be a risk.Therefore, it’s crucial to have a basic understanding of common running injuries and how to prevent them. This way, you’ll reduce the risk of injury which will leave you free to train as you wish for whatever goals you have.

Beginner runners may be most at risk

If you’re a beginner runner, the chances of you sustaining an injury are elevated. It takes a while for your body to adapt to the physical demands running places upon it. If a beginner starts a training regime from scratch in too intense a manner, they will most likely experience injury. Not good.

To reduce the risk of injury, beginner runners should start out very relaxed and gradually build up their mileage and speed overtime.

Don’t do what the author did on his first ever training run and try to clock up 7 miles without any prior experience. Guess how it ended? I tore my hamstring and was out of running for three weeks. Epic fail!

The golden rule for injury prevention

Whilst it’s helpful to know more of the finer details of specific running injuries, bear this overall rule in mind for injury prevention.

The golden rule: Whilst you run, listen to your body, and react accordingly.

What exactly does this mean? The way your body feels at any given moment can tell a lot about your current condition.

For example, you know when you’re ill with the flu because you feel rotten and moving your head off the pillow is near impossible. As a result, you know to take time off work or school and recover for a week. Feeling rough and worn down is the cue to formulate a response and act accordingly. It’s the same in running. If you’re feeling physical pain or discomfort, it’s probably a sign tat something isn’t quite right.

If a part is hurting for an extended period, like your leg, you’re probably on the brink of an injury. If this happens, you should react by reducing the intensity of your pace or maybe even bringing it down to a walk to avoid doing some damage.

If you remember this simple rule of reacting to what your body is saying, your chances of avoiding common running injuries will reduce drastically.

What to do if you have an injury?

Whilst most injuries are mild in manner and not too serious to lead to a total stop in training, some will be bad.

If the injury is painful and has reduced your ability to move as freely as normal, you should stop running immediately and rest the injured area. If possible, see a health practitioner to get expert advice on recovery.The most important thing to do when injured is to not forget about the healing process and run through the injury. If you do this, you’re increasing the risk of the injury developing into something serious and very harmful to your health. Don’t do this.

It sucks, but the best thing you can do when injured is to ride it out and trust in your bodies healing process. This way, you’ll eliminate the chance of doing some lasting damage, heal properly and be able to bounce back to running an improved athlete.

Stretching before and after each run is a crucial part of injury prevention

For avoiding injury, stretching is an absolute must. In addition to preventing injury, stretching has many more benefits including:

  • Improved flexibility
  • Pain relief
  • Injury prevention
  • Relaxation
  • Release tension
  • Increased blood circulation

For more information on stretching for runners, check out this blog post:

Running can cause many types of injuries including spraining, straining, tearing muscle tissues, and more. Without further ado, here’s a summary of the 5 most common running injuries and how to.

1. Shin Splints

About: The term ‘shin splints’ describes pain along the shin bone, also known as the tibia which is the large bone to the front of your lower leg. In technical terminology, a shin splint is known as Medial tibial stress syndrome. It usually causes a sharp painful sensation within the inside of the shin bone, particularly painful when moving. Sometimes, pain can develop on the outer sides of the shins too.

Symptoms: If you have shin splints, you will notice tenderness, soreness, or pain along the inner side of your shinbone and mild swelling in your lower leg. The discomfort might discontinue when you stop exercising and come back when you start exercising again. If this cycle continues and there is no break taken to allow the shin to recover, there is a risk of developing a more serious stress-fracture which can be very painful.

Causes: Shin splints are a result of excessive stress on the shinbone and the tendons that attach the muscles to the shin bone. This surrounding muscle is also wrapped around the ankle bone and helps control the movement of the foot. Shin splint happens when you exert the tissue that connects to the muscle along the tibia bone. Due to the overexertion, the tissue bruises and gets inflamed. Consequently, a feeling of pain and tightness in the lower leg occurs.

Prevention: As they say, prevention is always better than treatment. You can prevent shin splints from buying well-fitting running shoes, adopting good form, and gradually conditioning your muscles to be strong and withstand more stress to reduce the shin splint risk.

Treatment: Treatment for shin splints is simple. Rest and let the shin heal. Ice packs and heat compression might help ease the pain and soreness too!

2. Hamstring tear:


About: The hamstring is a combination of three muscles that run along the back of your thighs. The hamstring tear is one of the most common injuries an athlete or a runner face. A hamstring tear happens when one of these muscles gets overworked and rips. Consequently, this rip causes pain which ranges from mild to so severe, which can make walking and bending impossible. In the worst scenario, you may need support from crutches while recovering.

Symptoms: You might have a hamstring tear if you feel a sudden and severe pain in the back of your thighs while running. If there is tenderness and bruising in the thighs and it hurts every time you walk or bend, chances are you’re at risk of a hamstring tear or have already had one. Sometimes, the pain can be so severe that it’s not possible for the injured leg to take your weight which indicates a bad third-degree tear.

Causes: Hamstring tear happens when you have not warmed up your muscles enough, or you have weak glutes because of a lack of exercise. Therefore, sudden exertion overworks the muscle and causes a hamstring tear. One of the most common causes of a hamstring tear is that you are training too hard. Consequently, you overwork your muscles and tear them.

Prevention: You can prevent a hamstring tear and other hamstring injuries by doing a dynamic body warmup that essentially focuses on stretching hamstring muscles. You can try taking part in muscle strengthening training programs so that your hamstring muscles can take high-intensity acceleration easily. Furthermore, I recommend allowing sufficient recovery time in between training sessions to allow the hamstring muscles to repair themselves and prevent the risk of them tearing.

Treatment: If the tear is mild, a few weeks of rest should do the trick. However, if the tear is excruciatingly painful this suggests some serious damage has been done which might need surgery to fix. If the bruising and swelling from a hamstring tear remain the same for 2-3 days, you should go to see a doctor and get it checked professionally.

3. Achilles tendonitis

About: This injury causes pain in the tendon that runs along the back of your heel and attaches to the lower calf. Achilles tendinitis happens when runners increase the intensity and duration of their training. It starts with dull pain which gradually intensifies and is prevalent in runners or people who play other sports such as tennis and soccer.

Symptoms: The Achilles tendinitis pain starts as a mild ache in the back of your lower leg or above the heel after a vigorous running session or any other sports activity. You might also feel swelling and tenderness, particularly at morning time when the muscles feel stiffer.

If the pain is persistent and shows no signs of going away, it’s a good idea to see a medical professional for guidance.

Causes: The causes of Achilles tendinitis are from intense strain to the Achilles tendon. The less conditioned the muscle is, the more we run and the more pressure we place upon it, the more likely we are to injure it. Age is also a factor; the structure of our tendons deteriorates as we age, increasing the risk of experiencing Achilles tendinitis.

Prevention: Increasing the intensity of running gradually. If you’re a beginner, start slowly and increase the vigor of your training regime over time.

Invest in a good pair of shoes. Good running shoes provide support and cushioning for your feet which take a pounding during a running workout.

Treatments: Achilles tendinitis is awfully painful. However, it’s symptoms can be managed with over the counter medications like ibuprofen. If that doesn’t help the pain, you should go to a medical doctor and ask for guidance. In the worst case (though rare), surgery may be required to manually fix the torn tendon.

4. Runner’s knees

About: Perhaps the most common injury on this list, the runner feels a sharp pain in the front or behind their kneecaps which resembles a dull ache and consistent ache. The pain flares up every time you walk, run, and can become uncomfortable when sitting down for too long.

Symptoms: The main symptom of runner’s knee is a consistent, lingering pain behind the kneecaps. There may be a small sound every time you bend your knee accompanied by a sharp pain when flexing the leg.

Causes: The pain of runner’s knee may be caused by irritation of the soft tissues or lining of the knee, worn or torn cartilage, or strained tendons.

Prevention: Runner’s knee can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight to take pressure off the joint, taking care of your bones, gradually ramping up workout intensity and taking time out to rest when knee pain first appears.

Treatment: You should rest as soon as you feel the pain, use ice packs. If the pain is severe and long-lasting, see a medical doctor for a professional opinion.

5. Plantar fasciitis:

About: An unpleasant overuse injury, plantar fasciitis gives runner’s a sharp and stabbing heel pain. It happens when the tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot, connecting to the heel bone, becomes inflamed with overuse.

Symptoms: Plantar fasciitis causes sharp pain in the bottom of your foot near the heel. The ache is most intense when you wake up and take your first steps in the morning and quickly becomes dull.  The pain is particularly severe when walking and running.

Causes: Your plantar fascia is in the shape of a bowstring, supporting the arch of your foot and absorbing shock when you walk. If tension and stress on this bowstring become too great, small tears can occur in the fascia. Repeated stretching and tearing can irritate or inflame the fascia, although the cause remains unclear in many cases of plantar fasciitis.

Prevention: To prevent plantar fasciitis, you should try to maintain a healthy weight, try low-impact exercises, do leg stretches/foot stretch before each run, and gradually ramp up intensity in your running regime.

Treatment: Over the counter pain relief like Ibuprofen can ease the pain. If there’s no improvement in the symptoms after 2-3 weeks, it’s recommended to go see a medical professional.

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