Any runner knows that eventually, injuries happen. And they’re usually related to overtraining, bad habits, imbalanced or weak muscles, or ignoring recurring aches and pains. Almost 80 percent of runners get hurt every year. Those newer to running, or returning to running workouts after a long hiatus or injury, are more susceptible. Here’s how to prevent the seven most common running injuries, so that you can focus on hitting your stride.
1. Shin Splints
Shin splints happen when the muscles and tendons covering your shinbone are inflamed. This leads to a dull or sharp pain in your shin area while walking or running.
“The most common broad injury category [I see] would be overuse injuries, such as shin splints or some sort of sprain,” notes running coach Kyle Kranz. “This specific injury area can also be related to bone health and may be addressed by nutritional interventions to regenerate and strengthen the tibia.”
Prevention is complex, but some research has found shock-absorbing insoles for arch support to help a little bit, in addition to wearing the right running shoes and running on soft, non-hilly surfaces, whenever possible. If you’re actively dealing with pain, then icing your shins and keeping them elevated can help. In general, Kranz recommends practicing “proper load modulation” for injury-free runs. Basically, prioritize easier runs (versus going hard all the time), add rest days to routine, and skip runs when you don’t feel well.
2. Runner’s Knee
This type of knee pain can be misleading. The discomfort tends to show up gradually and feels minor at first. Your knees might feel completely fine during a run, and then worsen when you kneel, squat, sit cross-legged, or walk up or downstairs. It usually happens due to overuse, and it is typically caused by muscle imbalances, such as hamstring tightness and weak quadriceps or hips, which put additional pressure on the knee.
Aaptiv trainer Rochelle Moncourtois says knee injuries can be prevented by staying light on your feet while running, and again, wearing the proper shoes. Reduce mileage, wear a knee brace, try knee tape to help treat the pain, and avoid downhill running, when possible.
3. IT Band Syndrome
Your IT band is a thick tendon stretching from your pelvic bone all the way down your thigh. According to research, inflammation can be triggered by running too many miles in a given period, weak hips or pelvic floor, a weak low back, or low core strength. It feels like a shallow pain on the side of your leg, or an acute pain hitting the outside of your knee.
“Iliotibial (IT) Band Syndrome can be an often mysterious issue, but research suggests it may be related to hip or glute weakness,” says Kranz. “A mantra I use is ‘Every day should be hip day.’ I try to get my runners to do at least a little strength work every day.” Work to strengthen your hips and core on a consistent basis, and practice foam rolling before and after you run.
4. Plantar Fasciitis
When heel pain strikes the bottom of your foot, it most likely involves your plantar fascia, which can become inflamed with repetitive stress or overuse. However, this is one of the most preventable running pains. Keep your feet safe by wearing shoes with lots of support, stretching your feet, and getting plenty of rest to heal. Oh, and make sure you’re not running too many miles in a single stretch. (Do we sound like a broken record, yet?)
5. Stress Fracture
When you overtrain your muscles, they stop being able to absorb shock—and then any stress that hits your bones can lead to a crack or fracture. Moncourtois says the best way to prevent stress fractures is to watch how much you’re training and listen to your body.
This type of injury is fairly common for runners, particularly in their feet, legs, or pelvis. Be sure to cross-train with low-impact exercises like yoga or cycling. Maintain high levels of vitamin D and calcium in your diet to promote strong bones, too.
6. Pulled Muscle
With a pulled muscle, tendons and fibers are strained or torn. A minor injury will feel stiff upon movement, and a major one will be painful. For runners, calves and hamstrings are frequent targets. Pulled muscles are usually a result of overuse, inflexibility, or the lack of a warm-up or cool-down. Yes, it sounds obvious, but the number one way to avoid a pulled muscle in the first place is to stretch before and after your workout, advises Moncourtois.
That’s it! Use these tips to stay safe during every workout.