Nobody wants to get hurt, but eventually, running injuries are inevitable.
The number of runners that get injured every year is shocking. A poll by the Runner’s World magazine revealed that more than 60 percent of its readers suffered from a running injury over the past year.
Other surveys estimate that up to 50 to 70 percent of runners incur at least one serious injury in the course of one year. In fact, the rate of injuries reported in the scientific literature varies from 3 to 12 injuries per 1000 hours of running. That translates to up to 10 to 15 million people getting hurt.
Here is a list of some of the most common running injuries out there:
- Runners knee
- IT band syndrome
- Achilles tendinopathy
- Compartment syndrome
- Stress fractures
- Plantar fasciitis
- Ankle sprains
I can go on and on. The list is quite terrifying and long.
So what do you need to do to prevent these ailments?
First, learn more about the whys. Then, be proactive about prevention. I’m sure you don’t want to pop pills all the time.
In today’s post, I’ll explain what running injuries are all about, why they happen, then share a few training guidelines for preventing injury while running.
Let’s lace up and dig in.
What is A Running Injury?
The term “running injury,” basically, refers to injury sustained during running. It’s pain or damage that occurs as a consequence of training.
Injuries happen when a particular body part is placed under excessive stress or improper anatomical posture that it can no longer function properly.
An injury forces you to reduce your weekly training mileage or stop training altogether in cases of severe pain. It could also interfere with how you walk, play, work, exercise, and do everything else in life.
It’s really bad.
Acute Vs. Chronic Injury – Which is Which?
I have already written extensively about running injuries in previous posts. You’ll find links to these posts at the end of this article.
But, all in all, running injuries, and sports injury, in general, can be broadly categorized into two types: acute, or sudden onset, and chronic, gradually occurring onset.
By learning the difference between acute and chronic injuries, you’ll have a better perspective on how to deal with them for both the short and the long term.
Acute Running Injuries
The first category is typically “traumatic.” An acute injury is usually associated with a particular, hurtful, incident where you “felt it pop” at some point, whether it’s due to a fall, crashing into another runner, twisting an ankle, getting hit by a car, etc.
Acute injuries can sneak up on anybody, making prevention tricky. But, you can cut risk by paying attention to your surroundings and running surfaces, especially on the trails or near heavy traffic regions.
The Many Shades of Acute Injuries
Most acute traumatic injuries can cause your ligaments to snap, muscles to tear, bones to crack, etc. The range of severity varies. It can be minor, a blister for instance, or more severe, such as a strain, laceration (or cut), broken bone, or a sprain.
In general, strains and sprains are the most common type of acute injuries that strikes runners.
Strain Vs. Sprains
A strain is a tear, pull, or twist of a muscle or tendon, the cord of tissue attaching muscle to bone.
Strains occur due to overextending or overstretching the tendon beyond its normal range of motion, tearing it in the process.
On the other hand, a sprain is a tear or overstretch of a ligament, the band of connective tissues that attach the end of one bone to the other.
These are typically caused by overstretching (forcing beyond their range of motion) a wrist, knee, or most commonly among runners, the ankle. Most of the time, it followed by bruising.
The Main Symptoms
Let’s talk about medical terms a bit here. Acute injury always followed by inflammation.
There are five main symptoms :
- Calor – heat in the affected area and surroundings
- Rubor – color change in affected area; usually turned reddish
- Dolor – sudden and severe tenderness
- Tumor – shape deformity, swelling or dislocation
- Functiolaesa – Inability to move the affected joints through a full range of motion.
Treating Acute Injuries In Runners
When it comes treatment, the RICE method should be your first line of defense, especially for mild cases. The primary purpose of the RICE method is to reduce hemorrhage, swelling, and pain, all of which may provide the right conditions for healing to take place.
RICE is an acronym standing for:
R: Rest. At the onset of pain, reduce your running, or stop altogether, especially if it’s affecting the way you run. You don’t want to continuously bashing your painful site.
I: Ice. Research suggests that ice therapy is most useful for dealing with acute injuries. If you are unable to reach for cold as soon as possible, simply ice the injured limb 10 to 15 minutes, two to three times per day for the first 48 to 72 hours post-injury.
Never ice it for more than 20 minutes at a time. There’s no “the longer the better” concept here. Too much cold may restrict oxygen supply and slow down the healing process.
C: Compression. Compress the injured limb to hinder any swelling and movement that could further damage it, preferably with high elasticity and breathable compression bandage. You can wrap and unwrap it every 2 hours or simply stay put for 6 hours max.
E: Elevation. Keep the injured limb elevated and supported on a pillow—preferably above heart level, to help reduce swelling and pain. Keep the sole straight and tall, not sideways.
Don’t hesitate to use assistive tools like sticks or crutches. The injured site needs to be immobilized and avoid weight-bearing until swelling subsids.
In case you don’t know which approach is more appropriate, consult with a certified physician or a health care provider for advice.
Serious Acute Injury
Not all acute injuries are created equal. In extreme cases, an acute injury will require immediate medical attention—especially when accompanied by high levels of pain and inflammation. Reposition, casting and surgery can put broken bones back in place, fix torn ligaments and tendons.
Chronic Running Injuries
Commonly known as overuse injuries, as the name suggests, these conditions are caused by overuse of a specific part of your body while running.
More specifically, chronic running injuries are the result of repetitive micro-trauma to the joints, bones, and tendons. They develop slowly over time as a result of prolonged repetitive stress applied to the soft tissues of the body.
The Most Common Running Ailments
Chronic injuries are, by far, the most common type of injuries, outnumbering acute injuries among runners of every background and training level.
But since they tend to be lower in pain compared to acute injuries, overuse injuries don’t attract immediate medical attention. In fact, if you’re already dealing with mild and dull pain, an overuse injury might be in the making.
The Main Affected Areas
Chronic running injuries can occur to the following structures
- Example: stress fractures
- Soft tissue compartment. Example, compartment syndrome.
- Periosteum cartilage—the covering of the bone. Example: shin splints.
- Example: knee bursitis.
Where Overuse Injuries Strike In Runners
The majority of running injuries are lower extremity injuries— usually, injuries of the foot, lower leg, knee, and the hip.
The knee is the most affected area and most commonly injured body part. In fact, research estimates that knee-related injuries are the most common, ranging from 30 to 50 percent of all lower extremity injuries.
Next, 17 percent strike to the ankle and foot region, 13 percent to the lower leg, and last, but not least, 11 percent of the pelvis and hip area.
Classic examples of chronic injuries include:
- Runners Knee
- Iliotibial band syndrome
- Shin splints
- Tennis elbow
- Plantar fasciitis
- Achilles tendinitis
- Stress fractures
- Carpal tunnel syndrome.
The Main Causes
These are the factors that may contribute to the development of an overuse injury:
- Doing Too much too soon wither proper recovery
- Drastic changes in training load
- Improper footwear
- Faulty biomechanics
- Structural abnormalities
- Bad running form
Chronic injuries are harder to diagnose than the acute type as the cause is often unclear, unknown, or a mix of many factors.
Main symptoms of overuse include
- Dull pain even when at rest
- Swelling and redness.
- Sharp, often debilitating, pain while running, or performing any weight-bearing movement.
- Warmth to the touch
- Impaired function of the injured limb
Keep in mind that all these warning signs might be present but not noticeable during the early stages. So pay attention to your body. If you feel any sensation that I mentioned before, have it checked out.
Treating Overuse Injuries In Runners
Although overuse injuries are common in the running world, they are elusive and typically occur over time, which makes them hard to diagnose and treat.
For dealing with chronic injuries, you may still apply the RICE method. Just keep in mind that it might not be enough, and won’t prevent future flare-ups. That’s why you’ll need more tricks up your sleeves.
How To Prevent Overuse Injuries
What follows are some of the best measures you can take to prevent overuse injury while running.
Know Your Limits
This is, by far, the cardinal rule when it comes to avoiding all kinds of sports injuries. This is what’s commonly referred to as doing too much, too soon, too fast
Your body needs time to recover and adapt to increases in speed or mileage. Push your body too much, and you will be flirting with disaster.
Take plenty of rest. Make sure to add recovery days, and weeks to your training plan by taking a complete break from training both physically and mentally.
During the off-time, cross train with low-impact activities, such as swimming, low-intensity biking, or, my favorite, Yoga. Especially Yin or Gentle yoga, it will help you to decompress the stress inside your body, especially within the fascia tissue.
Use the 10 percent rule. Don’t increase your running mileage by more than 10 percent from one week to the next.
Listen to your Body
Overuse running injuries don’t happen overnight (falling flat on your face is the exception here, but we already talked about that).
Most running injuries come with early warning signs—discomfort, soreness, aches, and persistent pain,—but it’s up to you to listen to them and take the right measures.
Have an early warning system to pain, and do your best to get to the root cause of what’s causing it. At the first sign of onset, whether it’s a pain that gets worse during a run or forces you to change your running gait, take some days off and reevaluate your approach.
Don’t get me wrong, aches and running go hand in hand, but if the pain persists and/or it’s taking a toll on your body, then you need to start paying attention.
In a nutshell, if your body hurts, do not run. That’s it.
Regular strength training not only helps improve performance but also protect against injury by improving your structural fitness. This helps your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to better endure the high impact nature of running.
Strengthen your lower body muscles, especially your quads, glutes, and hip muscles.
Here are the runners-oriented strength routines you need:
Stretch your Body
Just like strength training, stretching is another off-road thing you can do to protect your body against common running injury.
Current research finds no link between stretching and injury prevention, but this is something I will bet my money on, and I strongly urge you to boost your range of motion.
When you improve your range of your motion of your running muscles, your body will move more efficiently and have less risk of injury.
Runners tend to be tights in the hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, and glutes, so in turn, you are more likely to get injured in and around those areas.
Tight hamstrings can lead to knee pain other trouble. Tight calves are also bad since they have been linked to plantar fascia and Achilles tendon injuries in research.
Lucky for you, I have written a lot about the subject, and here are three flexibility routines that can help stretch your running muscles and help you prevent injury in the process.
As previously stated, when you got aching or painful joints or muscles, look no further than R.I.C.E for immediate treatment. You don’t have to have an EMT course certificate to do these simple steps.
For example, if your knee hurts, take a few days off from running (Rest). Ice the painful area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, three to four times a day.
Plus, elevate the injured knee to limit swelling. For more, you can also use compression, using an ACE bandage or compression socks, which can help reduce inflammation and provide instant pain relief.
Run on Proper Surfaces
Running on hard and/or uneven surfaces, like concrete or asphalt, puts undue stress on ligament and joint. And as a runner, the last thing you want is more impact.
Run often on hard surfaces and you’ll be risking medial tibia stress syndrome, stress fractures, and other overuse injuries are very high.
Do the bulk of your running on softer surfaces, be it path through the park, a dirt trail, a bike path, grass road, and other similarly yielding surfaces. You can also head to the local track for a more firm and flat surface.
Proper Running Shoes
I can’t emphasize this one enough. Sure, running does not require a lot of equipment, but the shoes are still a MUST.
So make sure to have the right pair on.
Head to a specialty-running store and have your gait and foot type analyzed by expert stuff so they can help you pick the perfect pair. It can be tricky for those with big feet or big proportion of the front part.
Make sure also to replace your running shoes at least every six months—that’s about 400 to 500 miles of running. This, of course, depends on your weight, size, foot strike, shoe type, and weekly mileage.
The earliest warning of “wear and tear” shoes can take place on the heels part and big toe. If you feel something not nice or sometimes you spot calluses in your heels, change.
Proper Running Form
Poor form can limit your performance and lead to undue pain and injury, leading to shin splints, back pain, limited performance, and so on.
On the other hand, proper form will also help you run more efficiently, so you would run farther and faster with less fatigue.
Here are a few pointers to help you develop and keep good form:
- Run in a relaxed manner with the least tension possible. As you run, do your best to keep your entire body relaxed the entire time, especially your neck, shoulder, arms, and hands. Avoid clenching your fists as this can lead to tightness in the arms, shoulders, and neck.
- Keep looking ahead. You should be gazing at the ground about 15 to 20 feet ahead of you. Never stare at your feet.
- Land on your midfoot. I used to be a heel striker, and that limited me in so many ways. Nonetheless, things changed for the best when I started consciously working on landing on the middle of my foot, then rolling through to the front of the toes.
- Point your feet straight head. Running with your feet pointed in or out could increase the risks of injuries, and it’s really inefficient. So make sure to point your toes in the direction you want to go
The above explanations and tips covers virtually all you need to know about dealing with and preventing running injuries. Now it’s up to you to take action and start training pain- and injury-free. What’s not to like!
Do you have any favorite running tips? What do you do to prevent injuries? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.
Keep running strong.