As much as athletes want to be able to perform at a 100%, injuries are inevitable. Sometimes it may be due to wear and tear of soft tissues, other times it could result from an inadequate warm up or over doing things. Whatever the reason, sustaining injuries at one point or the other is a reality every runner must face. These injuries if not properly managed may hinder you from training & racing to your potential and restrict your daily routine. Naturally, there are many ‘potential’ running injuries but in the vast majority cases you would be very unlucky to suffer any of these. In this article we will focus on the top 5 common running injuries.
1 of 5 Common Running Injuries: PLANTAR FASCIITIS
The plantar fascia is a tough band of tissue that runs from the heel bone to the toes. With repetitive stretching of this tissue, micro tears begin to develop and it can become painful and tender to touch. This condition is termed Plantar Fasciitis.
Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms
While trying to attempt walking for the first time in the morning, pain will be felt around the heel of the affected foot. This pain may also be experienced after long periods of standing. Consequently, the runner may limp or prefer to toe walk. Walking barefoot especially on hard surfaces or climbing stairs may become intolerable due to pain.
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Plantar Fasciitis Causes
Most commonly, this injury results from repetitive strains causing micro tears of the plantar fascia. However certain factors can predispose a runner to plantar fasciitis. These factors are categorized as;
– Wearing shoes that don’t fit properly,
– Being overweight,
– Prolonged activities without proper conditioning (i.e. overdoing it)
– Physiological factors which include flat feet, tight calves, diabetes etc.
– Not doing enough stretches/strengthening of the foot and lower leg.
Plantar Fasciitis Treatment
It is important to note that treatment may span between days to months for symptoms to be relieved. Application of ice, combined with topical analgesic to the affected foot will help relieve pain. Physiotherapy is highly recommended where there is prolonged pain and this will involve strengthening and stretching of the affected muscles. Furthermore, wearing of soft sole shoes and the use of shoe inserts can be adjuncts to physiotherapy. From experience, I have found a few days off the road (do cycling/stretching etc instead), soaking my feet in warm water, followed by icing, LOTS of stretching and strength work got me back moving again.
Invasive treatments such as steroid injections may also be given in combination with conservative treatments. If all the above mentioned conservative and invasive treatments fail, surgery may be required.
Note: Injections and therapy are a very last resort and apply to only the worst 1% of cases or for high performance professional sports people. Patient stretching and strengthening will generally sort you out over time.
2 of 5 Common Running Injuries: SHIN SPLINTS
When the muscles and soft tissues at the front of a runner’s leg suffer from overuse or are overloaded, they may become painful after performing exercises. Overtime, the pain may be felt without the runner engaging in any form of exercise. A condition called Shin splints is said to have developed.
Shin Splints Symptoms
On the lower part of the tibia (shin bone), the runner will feel a dull pain which extends at least 5 centimetres to the surrounding regions.
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Shin Splints Causes
Making an attempt to run faster than the body is conditioned to or overloading the leg muscles are among the most common causes of this injury. Or more specifically going hard at training too soon will stress the muscles causing pain. Also, wearing poor shock absorbing shoes as well as running on hard or uneven surfaces can result in shin splints before you have built up leg strength.
Certain factors such as being overweight or having uneven leg length can predispose a runner to having shin splints. But muscle stretching and strengthening can prevent or alleviate symptoms.
Shin Splints Treatment
As a first course of treatment, reduce or stop your running to help in pain relief. The use of ultrasound and steroid injections may be considered (again relevant in only 1% of extreme cases). Physiotherapy treatment is recommended and varies according to the stage or intensity of the injury.
In the acute phase, depending on the severity resting for a few days will generally make a difference (might even need a few weeks off the road. If you cannot run, look at alternative ways to keep moving. Cycling and swimming are great for aerobic exercise and are non-load bearing i.e. you are not putting weight on your legs. Pilates and yoga are also great for building flexibility & strength. Ice should be applied for 10-20 minutes post exercise and combined with analgesics or a hot bath if you can. If you feel the pain has eased after a few days, go for a brisk walk, but ease into it, before gently picking back up the running once there is no pain. Shin splints are generally born out of a weakness in the muscle, so remember to keep
- Building strength,
- Ice & rest,
- Warm baths if possible
- Drink plenty of water
3 of 5 Common Running Injuries: ACHILLES TENDONITIS
The band of tissue that joins the calf muscles to the heel bone is called the ‘Achilles tendon’. With repetitive stress from activities like running, the Achilles tendon may get damaged causing pain and discomfort. This condition is called Achilles Tendonitis.
Achilles Tendonitis Symptoms
Pain in the morning around the region of the Achilles tendon on the affected leg is a typical symptom. With activity, this pain may worsen. There may be swelling around the region, with associated stiffness or tightness of the Achilles tendon on the affected leg.
Picture source: Orthopaedia.com
Achilles Tendonitis Causes
This injury mostly occurs as a result of the Achilles tendon being stressed repetitively, thereby causing micro tears or in severe cases a complete rupture. In addition natural stiffness or tightness of the Achilles tendon can also predispose a runner to this injury.
Achilles Tendonitis Treatment
In the acute stage, analgesics may be administered to relieve pain. However, physiotherapy treatment is required throughout recovery. Physiotherapy will include muscle strengthening and stretching programs, while low laser therapy and muscle taping can be used as an adjunct. Surgery may be considered if non-surgical treatments fail or in cases of complete rupturing.
4 of 5 Common Running Injuries: RUNNER’S KNEE
The knee joint is very important in bending and stretching the leg while performing activities such as ascending or descending a stair. Runner’s Knee is a condition where the front portion of the knee becomes painful. However, despite the name of this condition, it is not limited to runners or athletes alone.
Runner’s Knee Symptoms
The runner will feel pain at the front of the knee, around the knee cap. Attempting to carry out activities such as running, kneeling and climbing, worsens the pain. Furthermore, a clicking sound (crepitus) will be heard during movement and the affected knee may be swollen.
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Runner’s Knee Causes
This injury occurs when the kneecap (patella) is not in alignment with the other bones that form the knee joint (femur and tibia). With time, the cartilage around the kneecap may wear down thereby causing pain.
Runner’s Knee Treatment
The runner is advised to take a period of rest and reduce exercise workload. As the pain reduces, the runner may gradually increase exercise workload. Physiotherapy is important for recovery and will involve muscle strengthening and stretching programs. Short wave diathermy (specialist heat treatment) may also be included in physiotherapy treatment. Administering analgesics, taping of the knee cap, bracing and use of orthoses can be adjuncts to physiotherapy. As a last resort, if all non-surgical treatments fail, surgery may be required. However, it has been the experience of your author that the vast majority of knee issues are not as a result of a ‘bad knee’, but tight areas between the hip and the knee that manifest as knee pain.
5 of 5 Common Running Injuries: HAMSTRING INJURY
It is a common, but unpleasant sight to see a sportsperson running and suddenly clutching the posterior thigh muscles while grimacing in pain. This is because the hamstring muscles have been damaged, a condition called Hamstring injury.
Based on the severity of injury, intensity of pain and loss of motion, hamstring injuries can be classified into mild, medium and severe.
-Mild: Rupture or damage to a few of the affected muscle fibres. Pain may not be felt within the first 24hrs post injury. Usually, the runner will feel stiffness of the posterior thigh muscles, but this does not limit bending of the knee or movement.
-Medium: Up to half of the affected muscle fibres are damaged or torn. Pain is felt immediately the injury occurs, with associated swelling around the region. Movement is noticeably affected.
-Severe: More than half or all of the affected muscle fibres are torn. The pain felt by the runner is intense, with associated swelling. The affected posterior thigh muscles are weak and cannot perform their normal functions.
A sudden stretch or over stretching of the posterior thigh muscles (hamstring) is usually the cause of this injury, especially if the muscles have not been properly warmed up. The fibres of these muscles become ruptured to varying degrees depending on the severity of the injury.
Depending on the severity of the injury, the runner may be advised to rest the affected leg and reduce the exercise workload. Physiotherapy is recommended and will include strengthening and stretching programs, applying ice to relieve pain, and balance training. In a case of complete rupture of the hamstring muscles, surgery may be required.
While it may be impossible for a runner not to sustain injuries, the nature and severity of the injury can to a large extent be checked by managing exercise programs properly and undergoing adequate warm-up before performing running activities.