Runner's Knee and Other Common Running Injuries 

February 08, 2021

Runner's Knee and Other Common Running Injuries 

Few sports stand the test of time quite like running. From greats like Leonides of Rhodes in Ancient Greece to today's marathon runners, running is a long-standing Olympic trial, sport, and hobby. Millions of people regularly for health and fitness, some for fun and others to prepare for marathons. 

While it is an excellent way to stay active, running injuries can be significant barriers to fitness. Most running injuries result from repetitive stress, but others due to sudden injuries like a torn muscle or sprained ankle can also be debilitating. 

If you are a runner, learn more about common injuries, symptoms, and treatment options to ensure you can stay fit the healthy way. Keep reading to find out about running injuries and how to prevent them. 

Common Injury Areas 

Just like with any sport, running injuries tend to occur in those areas most needed to stay active. Running injuries tend to arise from the repetitive impact of your foot striking down on the ground with each mile you cover. 

This motion can cause injury to your knees, ankles, and legs. In a 2015 study, 7.2% to 50% of running injuries occurred in the knees, while just 5.3% to 19.1% occurred in the lower back.

Not all injuries are the same — so not all treatments are the same. Understanding the differences can guide you in finding the right treatment. Let's dive into some of those now! 

Runner's Knee 

Since the knees take a beating during a runner's career, let's start there. Runner's knee refers to pain around your kneecap or in front of the knee. Also called Patellofemoral syndrome, it is quite common in any sport with a lot of jumping or running. A risk factor is any weakness in your knee muscles or hips. 

Symptoms of runner's knee include: 

  • A dull ache in one or both knees
  • Pain that worsens with prolonged exercise or sitting
  • Throbbing/aches exacerbated by squatting, climbing stairs, or jumping
  • Pain ranging between mild or very painful
  • Popping or cracking sounds when you move after being stationary for a prolonged period

A doctor can diagnose whether you have runner's knee, and it may require an X-Ray to rule out other injuries. You can work out treatment plans with a physical therapist. 

Shin Splints 

If you are a runner, chances are you are no stranger to tibial stress syndrome, otherwise known as shin splints. This pain shoots down the inner or front part of your lower legs, right along the shinbone. 

Shin splints occur when you increase your pace too quickly, especially if you are pounding the pavement or other hard surfaces. 

Fortunately, shin splints are usually not too severe, and the pain will dissipate with rest. However, untreated shin splints can become stress fractures.

Symptoms of shin splints may involve: 

  • Pain along the inner or front part of your shinbone
  • Worsening pain when you exercise
  • Mild swelling
  • Tenderness

You can handle shin splints on your own by resting and cutting back on the frequency or distance that you run. 

Achilles Tendinitis 

The weak spot that cut down the Trojan War hero lends its name to the tendon above the heel on the back of your ankle. Injuries to this area cause Achilles tendinitis. 

This injury occurs when the Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle, and the heel becomes inflamed. It often happens if you increase the running intensity or distance. 

Leaving the tendinitis untreated can increase the risk of rupturing the Achilles tendon. A torn tendon usually requires surgery to repair. 

Symptoms of Achilles tendinitis include: 

  • Dull pain in the lower leg around the heel
  • Swollen Achilles tendon
  • Limited range of motion when flexing your foot
  • Warm feeling around the tendon

If you feel this pain around the tendon, visit your doctor or physical therapist.

Plantar fasciitis 

Another typical runner's injury is Plantar fasciitis. This condition occurs when the thick tissue layer, fascia, on the bottom of your foot degenerates or becomes irritated. 

The fascia layer is like a spring when you run or walk. Increase the running volume too much, and you can irritate the fascia. Any muscle weakness or tightness in your calves can also increase the chances of plantar fasciitis. 

Symptoms are typically: 

  • Pain around the heel or midfoot
  • Gradually developing pain
  • Burning sensation on the foot bottom
  • Pain that is worse in the morning
  • Pain after prolonged movement

A physical therapist can show you stretches to stretch the fascia and reduce irritation. 

IT Band Syndrome

The iliotibial band is a connective tissue that runs from the outer hip to the knee. Also called the IT Band, it stabilizes your knee when you walk or run. 

IT band syndrome results from repetitive friction of the tissue rubbing against the leg bone. Runners commonly have this injury due to tight IT bands. Weak abdominal muscles, gluteal muscles, or hips can worsen it. 

You will typically experience sharp pain on the outer stretch of your leg, right above the knee. The band may be tender to the touch or worsen when you bend the knee. 

Stress Fractures 

Sometimes, hairline cracks can form in the bone from repetitive impact or stress. For runners, these cracks usually occur on the top of the foot, in the heel, or the lower leg. 

 If you have frequent shin splits or suspect a fracture, it is essential to see a doctor. Stress fractures require an X-Ray for diagnosis. 

Signs and symptoms include: 

  • Worsening pain over time that may be barely noticeable but worsens gradually
  • Bruising, tenderness, or swelling around the fractured area

If you have a stress fracture, you will need 6-8 weeks to heal and may require a cast or crutches for a bit. 

Hamstring Injuries 

Hamstring injuries happen if your hamstrings are weak, tight, or tired. Hamstrings decelerate the lower during the running cycle swing phase but can be prone to injury. 

Sudden injuries like this are common for sprinters but are more of gradual development for distance runners. A hamstring strain will repetitively tear the connective tissue and fibers of the muscle and evolve into an actual injury for distance runners.

A hamstring injury can result in: 

  • Dull pain in the back part of the upper leg
  • Stiffness or weakness in the hamstring
  • Muscle tenderness

Sprained Ankle 

Overstretching the ligaments between the ankle and leg can cause a sprain. It is one of those sudden injuries that can stop a runner from finishing a race.

Sprains usually happen when you land on the outer part of the foot and the ankle rolls over. 

The symptoms of a sprained ankle include: 

  • Pain
  • Discoloration
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Limited range of motion

Ankle sprains can heal with self-care, rest, or physical therapy, but it can take weeks or even months to recover fully. 

How to Prevent Running Injuries

For dedicated runners, these injuries can make the difference between sticking to a running schedule or finding yourself wincing in pain with every slight movement. There are several preventative measures to take to minimize injury risk. 

Warm-Up

Always start with stretches or a light, easy jog before hitting your stride. Warm-ups should take about 5 to 10 minutes. 

Increase Slowly 

You will not run a marathon the first time you lace up and hit the track. You may not even hit a mile! Running is all about increasing your volume at a steady pace. 

A good rule of thumb is the 10 percent rule. It means do not increase weekly running volume by more than 10 percent at a time. 

Do Not Ignore Injuries 

Just like a shin splint can become a stress fracture, those nagging injuries can develop into something more severe if you ignore them. Consult your physical therapist about any damages and find a customized treatment plan to address problem areas.

Consider Technique

Even though running is about putting one foot in front of the other, specific techniques can help minimize stress on joints and muscles. If you are a serious runner or eyeing a long-distance goal, work with a running coach or film yourself running and analyze your technique.

Hip Strength 

A lot of these injuries can result from weak hips, so incorporate stability exercises to strengthen hips. These exercises will strengthen not only your hips but also your ankles and knees.

Soft Surfaces 

Running on asphalt, pavement, or other hard surfaces can cause strain and injury. Switch it up and run on rubber tracks, grass, gravel, or sand and take it easy on your joints. 

If you have a nagging injury, soft surface running is one way to continue running while the pain subsides.

Cross-Train 

Many runners cross-train and work other forms of exercise into their schedule. Some reliable options include low impact activities like swimming or cycling. 

This variety improves aerobic fitness and lets your joints rest from the repetitive impact caused by running.

Conclusion

Running injuries are typical for these athletes and often strike essential areas like the feet, legs, and knees. 

Any pain or discomfort from running requires attention. Always stretch before running, listen to your body, and consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis. 

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