As spring gets into full swing across the U.S., with temperatures warming up and longer daylight hours, it’s a great time to enjoy outdoor running. Running is a fantastic ways to build cardiovascular endurance, burn calories and get in better shape. All you need is a good pair of shoes, a local route and maybe some fun music!
Both recreational and competitive running have grown over the years. Unfortunately, with more participation comes greater risk and incidence of injury. Due to its high-impact nature, running is stressful on the body. In fact, research estimates that as many as 74% of runners suffer a moderate of severe injury each year.
While injuries may be common among runners, they can be avoided with proper training, comprehensive conditioning and some common sense. Don’t miss out on the many benefits of running simply because you are concerned about potential injuries; instead, understand common running injuries, take precautions as necessary, manage your impact and listen to your body.
Effects of Impact
High-impact on the body is not necessarily damaging, as this impact on the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments leads to adaptations and greater strength and endurance over time. Injuries can occur if the repeated impact is too frequent or too intense, without allowing sufficient time for recovery and rest. Injuries also can manifest themselves due to improper form, pre-existing weaknesses, anatomical variables and accidents (such as an ankle sprain).
Acute injuries, such as ankle sprains or fractures, can occur in runners, but most often, runners suffer from overuse injuries. It has been estimated that 50-75% of all running injuries are from overuse – from the constant repetition and stressors of the same movements. And, as we age, our ability to tolerate high-impact tends to decline, making it more uncomfortable to run and more likely to experience an injury if we don’t modify training.
Frequent Overuse Injuries, Treatment and Prevention
- Runner’s knee – Painful knees can be caused by improper tracking of the patella (knee cap) and the breakdown of cartilage, which affect up to 16% of runners.
- Treatment: Strengthen the muscles that move the leg, including the quadriceps and hamstrings; take lateral steps; avoid downhill running; and cross-train on an elliptical, Zero Runner and stationary bike
- Prevention: Strengthen the quadriceps and hamstrings; shorten your stride; land with the knees slightly bent; and strengthen your glutes.
- Shin splints – Impacting as many as 20% of runners, this achiness in the shins is due to tiny tears in the anterior tibialis, or shin muscle. It can affect those with high arches or flat feel, or can occur from running in a worn-out shoe or shoe that is inappropriate for your foot type.
- Treatment – Ice; rest; reduce mileage; kinesio tape the shin; wear an air cast ankle brace; cross train on stationary bike
- Prevention – Wear proper shoes for foot type (get fitted at a running store); increase mileage slowly; limit steep uphill climbs
- Iliotibial band syndrome – This occurs when the iliotibial band that runs on the outside of the leg gets irritated due to repetitive friction, also causing pain on the lateral side of the knee, and can occur in up to 14% of runners.
- Treatment – Reduce mileage; use a foam roller on the legs and hips; strengthen the glutes and inner and outer thighs; pool-run or use elliptical or Zero Runner
- Prevention – Strengthen outer thighs and glutes; limit hills; shorten stride; eliminate excessive running on a track
- Piriformis syndrome – Irritation in this deep hip muscle causes pain in the hips and glutes, and can compress the sciatic nerve, causing tingling running down the leg. This is six times as likely in women than in men based on anatomical differences of the hips.
- Treatment – Rest; ice; heat; stretching; massage; use foam roller
- Prevention – Strengthen glutes, inner and outer thighs; stretching, use foam roller; sit less and stand more
- Achilles tendonitis – Occurring in up to 11% of runners, the tendon that connects the calf muscle to the heel becomes tight and inflamed.
- Treatment – Ice; eliminate running; cross-train on an elliptical or swim
- Prevention – Strengthen calves; wear supportive shoes (avoid flip-flops and high heels); increase mileage slowly; wear compression socks
- Plantar fasciitis – The irritation of the plantar fascia band of tissue under the arch of the foot becomes irritated and results in heel pain. Plantar fasciitis impacts as many as 15% of runners.
- Treatment – Reduce mileage or eliminate running; use arch supports or see a podiatrist for orthotics; ice your heel; wear supportive shoes at all times; stretch arches; wear a Strassburg sock
- Prevention – Stretch arches; wear proper shoes for your foot type; roll arches on a tennis ball to loosen them; use arch supports; strengthen core muscles
- Hamstring issues – The muscle that runs along the back of the thighs can tighten up and feel weak in about 7% of runners.
- Treatment – Strengthen and stretch hamstrings; use a foam roller; massage; reduce mileage; cross-train with cycling and pool running
- Prevention — Strengthen and stretch hamstrings; use a foam roller; try yoga; wear compression tights
Managing Repetitive Impact
Because so many running injuries are related to chronic impact, practicing smart training to better manage this repetitive stress can help reduce risk and foster a healthier workout routine. Consider incorporating some of the following no-impact/low-impact options along with your running regimen to minimize injury risk:
- Treadmills – Although you still have impact here, the cushioned deck reduces forces significantly over running outdoors on asphalt. Plus, you can easily take on speed intervals.
- Tracks or trails – Impact here is only reduced, not eliminated. But these can provide a nice change of scenery, new terrain for various challenges and a convenient way to do speed work.
- Ellipticals – Ellipticals are great because they are low-impact and work the entire body. Today, there are many options, including lateral ellipticals, cross trainers with incline, recumbent ellipticals and more.
- Zero Runner – This unique machine by Octane Fitness uses independent hip and knee joints to replicate natural running motion but without any impact to the body. The body is suspended while you select your stride and pace, just like outside, thereby enabling you to run without jarring or discomfort.
- ElliptiGo – An innovative tool that is a combination elliptical and bicycle used outdoors, this is a fun way to log miles without pounding the body.
- Pool running – If you have access to a pool, take advantage of running with the buoyancy of the water for support and the resistance for extra challenge.
- Anti-gravity treadmill – The AlterG anti-gravity treadmill unweights a portion of your body weight so you can run lighter with less impact force. It’s a terrific machine, but is typically hard to come by in health clubs and is more likely to be found in physical therapy clinics.
- Stairclimbers – Taking on these rotating staircases may have minimal impact, but lifting your body weight definitely provides a maximum challenge and strengthens the legs.
- Stationary bikes – Some runners don’t like cycling because they feel like its motion is so different than running, but it still offers a non-weight-bearing cardio workout that conditions the legs.
Use these tips above to help bounce back from running injuries. Remember to listen to your health-care provider when recovering from an injury and to not push your body too hard. Stay Fueled.