If you’re a runner of any distance, you’ve probably already experienced your fair share of aches and pains in various parts of your body. Some of these aches, like sore abs or a little tenderness in your muscles after a tough run or a hard strength training workout is perfectly normal and is probably a good sign that you’re pushing yourself within your limits.
However, runners beware: there comes a point where the soreness isn’t a sign of healthy training any longer and enters dangerous territory (read: injury). Sharp pains, lingering sores and mind-numbing aches are all signs that it’s time to hit pause on your stopwatch and get to the bottom of the cause. Here are 4 common running injuries, as well as some insight into causes and prevention tricks.
Runner’s knee, or more formally known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, is one of the most common ailments amongst runners — after all, it was named after runners! It is accompanied by tenderness on the soft tissue behind the kneecap, as well as pain when bending the knee; sometimes even a popping or grinding sensation in the knee, too.
Causes and Prevention
The causes for runner’s knee is often from hitting the pavement too hard, especially downhill, where a lot of the forces of your foot contacting the ground are transferred to your knee.
Think back on your last couple of runs: if you’ve increased mileage, or found yourself on a particularly downward hilly route, you’ve most likely found your culprit. Try cutting back slightly on your mileage or focus on flat or uphill terrain to lessen the pressure on your knees.
Not the case? Runner’s knee is also caused by uneven muscles and weak hips, specifically weak glutes. When you rely mostly on your quadriceps while running, your patellar tendon, which is the soft tissue that your quadriceps connect to your shin bone (tibia) over your kneecap (patella), must work over time, leading to soreness and tenderness in your knee.
Focus on glute-strengthening exercises like bridges and TRX sprinters to power your stride and ultimately reduce pressure on your knees. Don’t forget to focus on contracting your glutes while you are out on your run.
Shin Splints are an all-too-common affliction for runners – especially pavement runners and barefoot runners. The pain is caused by the inflammation of the muscles and tendons that run alongside the shinbone, otherwise known as the tibia. More recently, however, the term shin splints has become somewhat of a catch-all term for any pain experienced below the knee.
Related: Runner’s World Shin Splints
Causes and Prevention
Almost every runner at some point experiences this nagging pain, and it’s often due to sudden increases in mileage, training, or changes in terrain. Any of these changes in your runs overworks the shinbone’s tibialis muscle (the muscle along the side of the shinbone) and causes swelling and pain.
For immediate relief, much like for any other sore or inflamed muscle, try some gentle stretching and the ole’ bag-of-ice trick on your sore shins for 15-20 minutes post run. Keeping your foot elevated also helps improve circulation and reduce swelling.
Here are two of our favorite stretches:
Tibialis Anterior Stretch
Passive Tibialis Anterior Stretch: Kneeling
Long-term, shin splints are tricky to avoid. At any stage during your running career, whether you’re still a beginner, an avid runner, or an elite athlete, there will come a time (and place) where you increase your mileage, tweak your training regimens, run a new course, or all of the above. Think: Marathon Training.
The best way for preventing or minimizing shin splints is to stick to the ten percent rule whenever you want to change anything about your run routines; this includes everything from your cadence, daily and weekly mileage, or any part of your form. Make small adjustments to your runs at ten percent increments, or even smaller at three or five percent, to avoid sudden over-usage of your tibialis muscles.
Next up on the list is jogger’s heel, or Plantar Fasciitis. This is best explained as the sharp pain and stiffness in the arches of your feet, specifically at the heel or under the ball of your foot. Specifically, the pain is caused by irritation or tearing of the plantar fascia, which is a fancy name for the fascia tissue on the underside of your foot.
Causes and Prevention
The cause of this nasty pain is usually from pounding too hard on the pavement while running, or the lack of arch support either from your muscles or in your shoes. Spend a day in flip flops or flats and you’ll see what we’re talking about.
The obvious and easy solution is to make sure that you’ve invested in properly fitted running shoes with good arch support. But the better solution is to strengthen the muscles in your feet and calves to be able to support the arch in your foot, as well as your push-offs from the ground. Here are some great, easy exercises for your feet and tibialis posterior (calves):
- Write your ABC’s in the air using your foot, rotating at the ankle. Great for while you are at your desk, or on the couch relaxing.
- Pick up marbles, stones or other small objects with your toes from the floor and drop them into a cup.
- Lay a hand towel on the ground and fold it up with your toes.
Another solution to preventing jogger’s heel is to reduce your braking and ground contact time, which are both good measures of how hard you’re hitting the ground when running. Focusing on taking quick, short and soft steps can help reduce ground impact and lower your risk of developing stiffness in your arches.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
The Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS), or IT Band Syndrome, is a quite painful and troublesome injury for many runners. The pain is felt on the outer part of the knee, and is usually a consequence of a tightness and inflexibility of the IT band: an important, thick tissue that connects the pelvis to the shin. The IT band’s main purpose is to stabilize and move the knee joint, which is key for runners and cyclists.
Causes and Prevention
The cause of ITBS is largely due to over-usage, excessive pelvic drop, and tightness of the IT band. What’s troublesome about this syndrome is that since the pain is felt around your knee, it’s easy to misdiagnose it as a knee injury, like runner’s knee. To make matters worse, ITBS if left unattended, can become chronic and lead to permanently reduced range of motion in your knees. Worst case scenario, it may even force you into early retirement of running — scary!
Here’s a quick diagnosis you can do at home*: try bending your knee at a 45-degree angle and really pay attention to where you feel the pain. If you feel a sharp pain on the outer areas of your knee, you’ve found your culprit: it’s your IT band.
*For most accurate diagnosis for any pain, always consult your doctor or your physician.
One way to prevent ITBS is to spend some extra time doing warmups and stretches pre and post runs. Many runners swear by using a foam roller to massage the IT band before and after runs as a way to stretch out this piece of thick tissue.
Here’s a quick video on how to massage your IT band using a foam roller.
The other solution is to tackle the biomechanical issue of excessive pelvic drop while running that is over-stretching the IT band diagonally, causing the tightness in the tissue that leads to ITBS. One way to do this is to try to maintain a 2-inch window between your knees while you run. This will help stop your legs from crossing over, and reduce pelvic drop.
Read more on our previous post: Everything You Need To Know About Pelvic Rotation.
Avoiding many of these common running injuries starts by identifying and correcting poor running form like overstriding, weak and exaggerated pelvic movement, or excessive ground impact. However, the challenge is knowing what your running form looks like without going to a running lab or seeing a coach.
Lumo Run captures research-grade running biomechanics to provide you with insight into your running form and coaching tips to help you reduce your risk of injury.
Get Extra Eyes on Your Running Form with Lumo Run
Lumo Run is a pair of smart running shorts that give you real-time auditory coaching and valuable post-run insights into your running form through biomechanic metrics like pelvic drop, braking, bounce, cadence, and more through the Lumo Run App. See what else Lumo Run measures.