5 common running injuries and how to fix them

From knee pain to shin splints, we share great ways to treat and prevent running injuries.

By Karen Kwan

5 common running injuries and how to fix them
©iStockphoto.com/Maridav
Running is a fantastic cardio workout, but it can lead to a variety of aches and pains – especially if you're not training consistently and progressing at a smart rate. Here are some of the most common injuries you may encounter as a runner and tips on how to heal them or, better yet, on how you can be proactive so you never experience injury at all.

1. Runner's knee
Runner's knee occurs when there is an issue with how your kneecap is tracking. "The kneecap is meant to glide on the femur and a variety of things can pull it out of line, from tightness in the ligaments to a faulty movement pattern," explains Justin Vanderleest, a Toronto-based physiotherapist.

He says the problem is most often due to the latter issue, "when people step down and their knees are almost knock-kneed, like their knee is coming toward their big toe or even more medially," he says.

How to treat and prevent it: Since runner's knee is most often caused by your movement pattern, which is causing your knee to track laterally, one of the best ways to fix this injury is to practise keeping your kneecap over the centre of your foot when running, says Vanderleest. Try running on a treadmill in front of a mirror to monitor how your knee is tracking.

Strengthening your quad and hip abductors, which help you keep your knees in the proper position, will help, too. One exercise Vanderleest suggests is the pelvic hike: Stand on one leg, with your torso upright. Let the opposite hip drop and then hike it back up. Repeat until you tire the hip abductor of the leg you are standing on.

2. Iliotibial band syndrome
Are you feeling a pain on the outside of your knees? It may be Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). "It's caused by friction of the IT band against the side of your femur and it can be caused by your movement patterns and may also be linked to tight glutes," says Vanderleest.

How to treat and prevent it: Regularly stretching your glutes will help alleviate your pain. Try foam roller exercises, too. While you can't increase the length of your IT band, using a foam roller will help break up the adhesions between the fascial layers, explains Vanderleest.

This post-run stretch will also help: Sit up tall in a chair and cross one ankle over the other knee. Press down on the knee and lean forward, holding for one minute. Icing your knees for 15 minutes five times per day can also be helpful when they're sore, says Vanderleest.

3. Shin splints
Often the result of overtraining, shin splints result in pain in the shin area and may be the effect of one of four causes, says Vanderleest: soreness in the shin muscle or bone; compartment syndrome, which is when pressure builds in your muscles to an unhealthy level; periostitis, which is inflammation of the connective tissue covering the shin bone; or a stress fracture.

"Getting your shin pain fully assessed early is beneficial – in fact, it's important for all injuries – but if you let shin pain go and it ends up that it was a stress fracture, you can end up in a cast for weeks," says Vanderleest.

In addition to overtraining, downhill running, muscle weakness, inflexibility and your movement patterns or biomechanics may also contribute to shin splints.

How to treat and prevent them: Bringing down your mileage to a comfortable distance, stretching regularly, focusing on strengthening your muscles and practising appropriate movement patterns will all help you avoid experiencing shin splints, says Vanderleest.

"Think of your movement patterns with regard to your foot and ankle position. Your footwear may also play a role," he says. With shin splints, "you have to take into account each person's story. You have to look at their running history, how strong their foot is, how fit they are, what type of footwear they are used to and go from there," he explains.

Stretching the calf muscles, though, is a good idea for all runners. Here are two stretches to try. Take a stride stance, facing a wall, hands on wall, back foot pointing to wall, keep knee straight and press pelvis into wall. Next, bring your back foot in halfway and bend your knee as though you're sitting on the heel. As for strengthening, balance exercises that use a Bosu ball or wobble disc should serve you well.

4. Achilles tendinitis
You'll feel this as pain in your Achilles tendon, which is located at the back of your leg, joining your calf muscles to your heel bone. You may experience Achilles tendinitis if you've progressed too quickly in your training.

How to treat and prevent it: Start by bringing your training down to a pain-free volume and intensity, says Vanderleest. Also avoid hill training and speed work.

Eccentric heel raises will help, too. Stand on a step; use your unaffected leg to get into a full heel raise and then slowly bring your heels down below the level of the step, then come back up. Calf stretches – try the ones that help treat shin splints – will also benefit you.

5. Plantar fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is a pain you'll feel on the bottom of your feet in front of the heel bone and through the medial arch of the foot. Overtraining can bring on this pain, which stems from overstretching the plantar fascia. It is also often the result of having high arches or overpronating (which is when your feet roll inward).

How to treat and prevent it: Start by bringing your mileage down to a pain-free level. Icing your feet will also help, so freeze a bottle of water and roll it under your affected foot, says Vanderleest. Hit up your running shop to find the right footwear for your feet and gait, and strengthen your feet with Bosu and wobble disc exercises.

Finally, a simple single-leg standing exercise can help heal the pain. Stand with your feet a couple of inches apart and slowly lift one leg about five inches off of the floor; find your balance while avoiding swaying or moving your standing foot, hold for 15 seconds and then switch legs.

When does your pain warrant a visit to a physiotherapist? "If you have a pain for a few days in a row and it's getting worse, see a qualified therapist. It can shorten your rehabilitation time if you get onto treatment early," says Vanderleest.

We have more tips, for beginner, intermediate and experienced runners.


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