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The 6 Most Common Running Injuries By Danielle DeGiorgio, DO, FAAPMR

Running Injuries

  1. Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome: The iliotibial (IT) band begins at the outside (lateral) hip and crosses the lateral aspect of the knee. It is a common cause of sharp lateral knee pain in runners. This is due to friction between the IT band and lateral femoral epicondyle (located just above the knee), which leads to inflammation in this area.
  2. Patellofemoral Syndrome aka Runner’s Knee: Symptoms include pain around or behind the kneecap (patella). It is caused by friction due to poor tracking of the patella within the naturally occurring groove in the thigh bone (femur).
  3. Hamstring Strain: The hamstring is a large muscle group in the posterior thigh, connecting the hip and knee. Symptoms may start as reoccurring tightness, but may progress to sharp debilitating pain. It is caused when the muscle is overstretched leading to a partial or complete tear.
  4. Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome aka Shin Splints: Symptoms include shin pain that increases with activity. It is caused by repetitive bony overload of the tibia or shin bone. If left untreated, shin splints may progress to a stress fracture.
  5. Achilles Tendinopathy: The Achilles is a large tendon that connects the calf muscles to the heel. Symptoms include pain in the back of the ankle/heel, which can present as stiffness in the morning or severe pain with running. It is caused by overuse and inflexibility.
  6. Plantar Fasciitis: The plantar fascia is found on the sole of the foot. Symptoms include sharp heel pain worse with the first step in the morning and/or with prolonged standing. It usually occurs with increased stress on the fascia, exacerbated by inflexibility or abnormal foot/ankle biomechanics.

Injury Prevention:

Injury prevention begins with proper nutrition, hydration, and sleep.  Additionally, athletes can follow these general guidelines to reduce the above overuse injuries:

  • Keep core and gluteal muscles strong
  • Maintain muscle flexibility (especially hamstrings, hip flexors, calves)
  • Do not increase mileage more than 10%/wk
  • Do not abruptly change distance, surface, and/or intensity of workout
  • Replace running shoes every 3-6 months or 200-300 miles
  • Remember to allow for recovery time

Treating Injuries:

The general principles behind treatment include:

  • Reducing pain and inflammation
  • Restoring full painless range of motion
  • Regaining full strength and endurance
  • Progression to sports specific movement/agility
  • Prevention of future injury

The bottom line: 

Injuries are a part of sports. As a former 3-sport high school athlete and a Division 1 collegiate basketball player, I know how important it is to stay in the game. It is vital that athletes don’t let their fear of being held out of competition, prevent them from being evaluated and treated. Subtle pain can lead to a decrease in muscle activation and peak performance. Therefore, letting a “minor” injury go untreated can lead to more serious complications.  As a Sports Medicine Physician, it’s my job to keep athletes competing at their highest level.