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Five Common Running Injuries and How to Deal with Them

Updated on March 20, 2016

Making the choice to become a runner can be a life changing decision. The benefits are numerous and can last a lifetime. However, if you run long enough you are bound to encounter some bumps along the way in the form of injuries. In over thirty years of running I have suffered from pretty much the full spectrum of repetitive overuse injuries. Here are a few tips and things you can do to help deal with and prevent these common running aliments.

NY City Marathon
NY City Marathon | Source

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is an inflammation of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot. This tissue is called the plantar fascia. It connects the heel bone to the toes and creates the arch of the foot. Plantar Fasciitis occurs when this thick band of tissue on the bottom of the foot is overstretched or overused. This can be very painful and make walking more difficult, especially in the morning when you first get out of bed. Factors that increase your risk of being affected by this include having flat feet, sudden weight gain, shoes with poor arch support and having a tight Achilles tendon.

This common affliction of runners usually results in heel pain that is often confused for heel spurs. Instead, what you are feeling is small tears and inflammation where the thick tissue meets the heal bone.

Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis include rest, ice, use of an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, and heel stretching exercises. If none of this works the use of custom orthotics may be recommended. I have had an issue with plantar fasciitis a few times over the years and now wear custom orthotics. They provide the arch support that I need and have essentially solved my Plantar Fasciitis problem.

I am also mindful to keep my Achilles tendon flexible and do exercises to strengthen my foot muscles. My favorite is to use my toes to pick-up a small object. This scrunching motion is very helpful in strengthening the foot muscles. Another useful exercise that you can do at home is to roll your foot back and forth over a small round object like a tennis ball. This helps to stretch and massage the plantar fascia. And of course there is the towel stretch. Just wrap a long towel around the top of your foot with your leg extended and gently pull the top of the foot toward you. This will help stretch the arch and plantar fascia.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Roll your foot over a tennis ball or canToe scrunch.  Try picking up a small object like a marble with your toes.Use a towel to pull the top of the foot toward youPull the foot back to stretch the arch
Roll your foot over a tennis ball or can
Roll your foot over a tennis ball or can | Source
Toe scrunch.  Try picking up a small object like a marble with your toes.
Toe scrunch. Try picking up a small object like a marble with your toes. | Source
Use a towel to pull the top of the foot toward you
Use a towel to pull the top of the foot toward you | Source
Pull the foot back to stretch the arch
Pull the foot back to stretch the arch | Source

ITBS: Iliotibial Band Syndrome

This common knee aliment causes pain on the outside of the knee and is associated with tightness in the iliotibial band. The pain is normally aggravated by running, particularly downhill running.

Certain factors make you more susceptible to developing this syndrome and they include; weak hip and gluteus muscles, overpronation, leg length difference and running on a cambered surface.

Common self treatments start with rest and avoiding downhill running when you start up again. Applying ice to reduce inflammation and the use of an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen can also help. There are some simple stretches that you can do that should help to strengthen the weak muscles. Lie on your side with your legs stacked one on top of the other. Keeping your legs straight, lift your top leg up while pointing your toes inward and toward the ground and hold this position for 30 seconds. Roll over and do the other leg. Do three sets on each leg and try to gradually work up to one minute per set. This exercise will help isolate and strengthen the glutes.

Another stretch that can help is what's called the knee crossover stretch. Lie down and bring one knee in towards the chest. Keeping both hips on the floor, gently pull the knee a few inches across the body, towards the opposite shoulder. You should feel a stretch in the hip and down the outside of the right leg.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Leg raise while pointing foot downwardPull the knee in and slightly across the body
Leg raise while pointing foot downward
Leg raise while pointing foot downward | Source
Pull the knee in and slightly across the body
Pull the knee in and slightly across the body | Source

Shin Splints

The term shin splints is a common name often given to any shin pain at the front of the lower leg. However, true shin splint symptoms occur at the front inside of the shin bone and can arise from a number of causes. In addition to the pain there can sometimes be swelling in the area. Anyone who has ever suffered from shin-splints knows just how painful this condition can be.

This common running aliment is usually caused by an inflammation of the sheathing that surrounds the tibia. A number of factors can contribute to shin-splints and they include overpronation (excessive inward rolling), oversupination (excessive outward rolling), inadequate footwear and increasing your training mileage too quickly.

Common treatments include applying ice to the area to reduce inflammation and the use of an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen. Using the proper footwear and possibly even orthotics can help to reduce the effects of the overpronation and oversupination. There are a few exercises that can also help that are designed to strengthen the calf and lower leg muscles. Try doing calf raises where you raise the heel of the foot off the ground as high as possible and slowly return to the ground. Toe walking and heel walking will also help to strengthen the calf.

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Calf raisesToe walkingHeel walking
Calf raises
Calf raises | Source
Toe walking
Toe walking | Source
Heel walking
Heel walking | Source

Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles Tendonitis is a condition of irritation and inflammation of the large tendon in the back of the ankle. Achilles Tendonitis is a common injury that tends to occur in recreational athletes. Overuse of the Achilles tendon can cause inflammation that can lead to pain and swelling. This condition is often caused by a lack of flexibility and overpronation. Age also plays a role in Achilles Tendonitis as tendons become less flexible as you get older and become more susceptible to injury.

Most cases of Achilles Tendonitis can be treated at home with ice therapy and the use of an anti-inflammatory. Once the inflammation has gone down you can begin exercises to strengthen and increase the flexibility of the tendon.

Calf drops are a good exercise for this and can be done almost anywhere. Just stand with the balls of your foot on a step and slowly raise the heel of your foot until you are on your toes. Hold the position for a few seconds and then slowly lower your foot to a position slightly below the step. Do three sets of 10 for each foot. Wall stretching of the Achilles tendon can also be accomplished by placing one foot forward with the foot on the ground up against a wall while keeping the other foot back. Lean into the wall slowly and hold the position. This will stretch out the Achilles tendon and the calf muscle. Be careful not to do too much stretching of the tendon until the inflammation has subsided to avoid aggravating the problem.

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Step stretch
Step stretch
Step stretch | Source
Source

Runners Knee

Commonly confused with ITBS, this knee aliment is a common injury among runners. With ITBS the pain is associated with the iliotibial band that is located on the outside of the knee. Runner’s knee is usually related to a weakness in the quadriceps muscles or a misalignment of the kneecap and results in pain to the inside of the knee.

As with most inflammation type injuries the use of ice therapy, rest, and an anti-inflammatory will help. A great exercise to help strengthen the quads is the squat. This can be done either on a flat or downhill facing surface. From a straight up position squat halfway down until you reach a full squat position at 90 degrees. Try doing three sets of ten. If this is too easy try doing them with some light weights in each hand or try doing single leg squats. Doing leg extensions with some resistance and mixing in some biking are also useful for strengthening those quad muscles. Other quad exercises include lunges for strengthening and leg pull backs to stretch the quads.

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The squatThe lungeQuad stretch
The squat
The squat | Source
The lunge
The lunge | Source
Quad stretch
Quad stretch | Source

Ice Therapy:

Ice the trouble spot for ten minutes on, then ten minutes off, repeating as necessary. You should apply ice as soon as possible after you have been injured, and immediately after a run if you are running with an injury. Heat should only be applied to an injury after the inflammation has subsided, probably after about 72 hours or so. If your swelling has gone down quite a bit, but there's still a little bit of inflammation, try alternating heat and ice after a few days of ice-only treatment.

Applying Ice
Applying Ice

Dealing with any overuse injury can be a frustrating experience. Our inclination is usually to not take time off from training for fear of losing our conditioning. Sometimes however, the prudent thing to do is to take the time for an injury to heal. And of course, if an injury does not respond to any home therapy you should certainly seek out professional medical advice. Ignoring an injury or attempting to run through an injury can only lead to a worsening of the condition and to ultimately having to interrupt your training for an extended period of time. Sometimes taking just a few days off combined with using ice therapy, an anti-inflammatory, and some flexibility and strengthening exercises can save you some serious time off and get you back on the road in no time at all.

© 2012 Bill De Giulio

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    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Kelly. Thank you. I've been running long enough to have suffered through pretty much every running related ailment. Glad you enjoyed the hub. Have a great day.

    • Easy Exercise profile image

      Kelly A Burnett 2 years ago from United States

      Outstanding! This is one of the most useful and concise hubs on exercise! Thank you very much! Voted up! And I will be sure to share!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Kim, thank you. So glad you found this helpful. Welcome to the wonderful world of running. Sounds like you are doing the right things, just keep it up. You never know where this will take you? Keep me posted on your progress. Have a great weekend. Bill

    • klidstone1970 profile image

      இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу 3 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

      Hi Bill. This is a great hub. I have taken up running, going very slowly to build up my endurance and try to avoid injury. I am doing very well and have lost 10 lbs so far. Right now I am alternating my running days with other workouts which seem to be working. I found this to be a wealth of information and thank you.

      Kim

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Ana. Thank you once again. I'm so glad you are enjoying these hubs on running. Hopefully they are helpful to folks who run or are thinking of running. Have a wonderful day.

    • erorantes profile image

      Ana Maria Orantes 3 years ago from Miami Florida

      Mr. Bill thank you for writing about five common running injuries. Thank to your article , many people will benefit. You are good.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for this advice! I especially like the foot exersizes. I run and rock climb, so my feet take a beating!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Tony. Appreciate you stopping by and commenting. I'm over 50 so I need every advantage I can get these days. Sometimes getting the pace just right can be a tough thing. Too fast, too slow.... if you do this long enough you eventually figure it all out. For me a regular regimen of stretching and strengthening really has helped to keep me healthy. Hopefully it works for you too. Thanks again.

    • Tony Flanigan profile image

      Tony Flanigan 4 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Another invaluable hub, thanks Bill.

      I didn't realize these things had real names - I thought it was just age, and nothing that a little TLC and time wouldn't fix.

      My (current) approach to running is to exert, but not over-exert myself. I have found that ultimately this does reduce running induced injuries. After a 5km run in Feb this year, I was in pain for about a week, from several sources. We did a 15km two weeks ago, and I had no problems, other than regret for not having pushed myself just a teeny bit harder in the first 5km.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Good luck to you. Use the ice also, always helps me with inflammation.

      Let us know how you do. Thanks.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      Good exercises. Running a 5K in two weeks have trouble with runners knee and will start doing squats.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Steph, it's helped keep me going all these years.

      Keep running and posting on your training and races.

      Bill

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Bill, this is a really comprehensive, helpful hub for runners! My sister has started adding miles in preparation for a 1/2 and full marathon this year, and asked me about pain in her knee. I'm going to forward this to her, and hope that it helps. Good luck with your training this year, Steph

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