Running is great exercise. You work your whole body, get to enjoy being outdoors if you so choose, and help keep your heart healthy. Running is hard on your body, though. If you know what some of the most common runner’s injuries are and what causes them, you have a better chance of preventing them. Christina Walker, M.D., a board-certified physician specializing in Orthopedics – Sports Medicine at Kelsey-Seybold’s Downtown at the Shops at 4 Houston Center Clinic, Berthelsen Main Campus, and Meyerland Plaza Clinic, describes some of the most common injuries.
Runners aren’t the only segment of the population who suffer from shin splints, but because shin splints are caused by repetitive impact activity, such as when your feet hit the ground over and over again when you’re running, there are a high number of runners who experience this issue.
“Repetitive impact and activity cause inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around your shin bone, called the tibia, leading to pain along the inside border of the bone, where the muscles are attached. This pain can range from a dull and throbbing sensation to sharp or razor-like pain, and can be felt during or after activity,” says Dr. Walker, whose clinical interests include general athletic injuries, fracture care, and concussions. “To prevent shin splints, wear supportive shoes. Don’t change a workout routine dramatically in one single day; rather, work up to it over time. Be sure to rest between high-impact activities.
Stretching the muscles in your lower legs has also shown to help alleviate and prevent shin splints. If you’re already experiencing this issue, rest and apply terry cloth towel-wrapped ice packs to the affected area for 20 minutes at a time several times per day.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, known as runner’s knee, is usually described as pain in the front of the kneecap, also known as the patella. It’s most common in females and young adults, and is one of the ailments runners find themselves dealing with fairly frequently.
“Your kneecap floats around relatively freely in your knee. It’s at optimal performance when, if you bend your knee, the kneecap moves in a straight line in the groove in your thigh bone (or femur) where it meets the knee. But that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, the alignment is off and the kneecap moves in an odd direction, which can cause pain and swelling. This is called runner’s knee – or patellofemoral pain syndrome. The symptoms build slowly over time. You might notice swelling or pain after exercise, or even pain when you’re sitting,” says Dr. Walker.
Preventing it is possible. Make sure you’re wearing the right footwear by going to a shop that specializes in running shoes. Try running on softer surfaces that give a little instead of an unforgiving surface, like concrete, and don’t dramatically increase your distance within a short period of time.
“Muscle weakness and instability can cause runner’s knee, so make sure you’re stretching and doing strengthening exercises to target those areas. If you’re already experiencing patellofemoral pain syndrome, it typically can be managed at home with anti-inflammatory medications, rest, knee bracing, and strengthening exercises. If for some reason the pain has lasted longer than three weeks, gets worse after exercising, or has started to affect the way you walk, contact your physician,” Dr. Walker recommends.
Similar to runner’s knee and shin splints, plantar fasciitis can strike anyone of any age and at any skill or activity level, but frequently affects runners. It happens when the plantar fascia, the thick band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your toes, becomes inflamed, causing a stabbing pain near your heel. The pain often feels worse after rest but improves after some activity.
“Plantar fasciitis is caused by repetitive impact – the type you carry out during a run, causing small tears in the plantar fascia. To help prevent plantar fasciitis, make sure you’re wearing proper, supportive footwear for your foot type. If you have high arches or flat feet, make sure you get something to support them. Stretches that work the plantar fascia may also help to avoid the injury,” notes Dr. Walker.
If you already have symptoms, make sure you stretch after you’ve been off your feet for a while. You can also roll the arches of your feet over a water bottle to stretch it, or brace the affected foot at night to keep it in a flexed position. Visit your doctor if the plantar fasciitis is causing significant heel pain that starts to affect the way you walk. If ignored for too long without stretches, bracing, or other remedies, it can begin to cause foot, knee, hip, or back issues as well