The Most Common (and Annoying) Running Injuries, According to a Philly Trainer

Plus, trainer Brian Maher’s top tips for avoiding getting sidelined.

If you love running, you know it can be a great way to burn calories, release feel-good endorphins, and get rid of some stress. There are few modes of exercise that truly allow you to zone out and let your mind wander like running does. Unfortunately, running can also come with nagging injuries that can keep you sidelined and unable to perform your normal workouts and activities. There are several measures runners can take to prevent injury, however, no one is immune to injury when it comes to running. Let’s look at the most common (and annoying) running injuries and how to prevent or remedy them.

1. Plantar Fasciitis

What is it? Plantar fasciitis occurs when runners have inflammation at the bottom of the foot, more specifically, the heel (the suffix “itis” means inflammation). This condition can result in various levels of pain, from pesky to unbearable. Many have described the feeling as comparable to stepping onto a nail that goes into your heel.

The causes: Plantar fasciitis can be caused by overtraining, overuse, and improper or worn-out footwear. In addition, having weakened muscles in the foot can cause the heel to take on more of a load than it can handle when landing during a run.

The remedy: A short-term fix to plantar fasciitis may be to replace your worn out insoles with new insoles or orthotics. This will certainly help to relieve pain, however, the root of the problem needs to be addressed to see a full recovery. To help recover, runners who suffer with plantar fasciitis may want to avoid being barefoot and focus on stretching and strengthening the calves, rolling the bottom of the foot with a golf ball, and icing the affected area for relief. Like any injury, recovering from plantar fasciitis may take time and it’s important not to jump back into running too quickly before a full recovery is made.

2. Achilles Tendinitis

What is it? Achilles tendinitis refers to the inflammation of the achilles tendon and is very similar to the symptoms found in plantar fasciitis cases. The achilles is the thick band of tissue that attaches the calf muscle to the heel. Having achilles tendinitis means having swelling in that band of tissue, which can be very painful.

The causes: Like plantar fasciitis, tight calf muscles that put a lot of strain on the achilles tendon can cause injury. The tightness may be due to overuse or weak and imbalanced calf muscles. It’s common for those who increase their mileage too rapidly when first starting out.

The remedy: Similar to plantar fasciitis, resting, icing, and stretching the affected area can help relieve pain. Once the pain has subsided a bit, work on strengthening and stretching the calf muscles by doing calf raises, one-legged balancing exercises, box jumps, and jumping rope. Pay attention to what the body is saying. If pain is felt when starting up again, slow down and rest more.

3. IT Band Syndrome

What is it? The IT band (iliotibial) is a tendon that connects the knee to the hip. IT band syndrome occurs when this tendon becomes inflamed, which can cause a stabbing feeling on the lateral side of the knee, especially when running downhill. The pain can start out as more of an annoyance, but if not treated, the pain can become excruciating.

The causes: There are a few causes of IT band syndome, but the major causes are running downhill and increasing the load of runs too quickly.

The remedy: A great way to alleviate pain and to scale how improvement is being made is to use a foam roller and roll on the side of the thigh, rolling from the knee to the hip. If the opposite leg doesn’t hurt, use that as a baseline measurement and compare that to the injured leg and how it feels during rolling. Try to avoid running downhill, as that may exacerbate the issue. A strength-training routine that focuses on the hips, quads, hamstrings, and glutes will help fix the issue long term, but it’s important to remember to not work on these until pain has subsided a bit.

4. Shin Splints

What is it? Shin splints is a blanket term for pain in the shin area. Mild pain can be caused by tender and inflamed muscles in the anterior tibialis, which is the muscle around the shin, but more serious pain can be caused by a stress fracture in the tibia.

The causes: Shin splints can generally be blamed on a sudden spike in training volume and intensity. If an exerciser new to running starts a program that has a high volume, the chances are good that person will experience shin splints. This can also affect those who exercise sporadically and inconsistently. After a period of a few month off of running, shin splints may pop up once the program has started again.

The remedy: Like most of the other remedies previously mentioned, keeping an eye on volume and intensity can greatly reduce the risk of these injuries. Progression should be slow and gradual. In addition, running on softer surfaces such as trails or grass may help alleviate pain versus running on blacktop. Finally, strengthening the anterior tibialis may prevent mild shin splints by preventing the muscles of the lower leg from being overtaxed during runs.

The gist: Running, although enjoyable for some, can take a toll on the body. The constant impact and pounding of the foot hitting the pavement can cause overuse injuries that can nag a runner for months, or even years. The key to avoiding many of these injuries is to try to preserve the body by avoiding high-impact surfaces, slowly and steadily progressing running routines, and maintaining strength and flexibility, especially in the lower extremities. If it’s too late and an injury has already surfaced, rest time (and seeking help from a physical therapist, if you see fit) is critical to ensure a proper recovery. After all, it’s better to take a few weeks off and return to normal as opposed to pushing through an injury and being out for months with a stress fracture. But by embracing these tips, you’ll be more likely to enjoy stress-free and pain-free runs.

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Brian Maher is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a private personal training studio in the Rittenhouse Square area. He and his staff of personal trainers offer packages to busy individuals looking to make lifestyle changes by improving their overall fitness and wellness. Read all of Brian’s posts for Be Well Philly here.

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