Addressing the 3 Most Common Runner Injuries

Though it’s not something athletes like to admit, increased activity brings with it an increased risk of overuse injury.  While you may argue that “over use” injuries are better on a whole than “under use” issues, learning to prevent and treat common runner injuries may become a fact of everyday life.  It’s estimated that 80% of runners will face some form of injury each year.  Here are the three most common injuries runners face every year, along with what to do to prevent and treat each one.

  1. Patellofemoral syndrome or “runners knee”

Patellofemoral syndrome is so common among runners that it’s actually referred to as “runners knee.”  According to runners world, 40% of all running related injuries are knee injuries.  Add that to the fact that 13% of runners have experienced a knee injury in the past year, and you realize how much of an issue knees can be for runners.  “Runners Knee” is a tracking problem in the knee, where due to imbalances in the knee or leg, the patella does not glide smoothly but rather pulls to one side, usually the lateral side.  It can be caused by high impact pavement running, downhill running, muscular imbalances or weakness in the hips that causes extra stress on the IT band, causing it to pull disproportionately on the knee.

To treat, temporarily decrease total mileage and switch to a lower impact running surface.  Do proactive work to strengthen the hips and glutes, as well as adductors in the inner thigh as imbalances and misalignment in these muscles, cascade down to pull on the knee cap.  Foam rolling the IT band can also provide great pain relief and allow the knee cap to slide back into it’s natural position.  With this condition, the TFL or Tensor Fasciae Latae muscle at the very top of the upper thigh may be sensitive to the touch.  This muscle uses the IT band as its tendon and stabilizes the knee.  If injury and overuse have made this muscle tight, it’s important to treat it to get the knee functioning correctly.

It’s important to take this pain seriously, and not just “work through it” as prolonged patellofemoral syndrome symptoms can lead to atrophy in the quads and damaged cartilage in the knee.

  1. Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is often an overuse injury, and it is easy to see that as a runner packs on the miles over time they’re likely to face some form of plantar fasciitis eventually.  According to Runners World, 10% of runners have experienced some degree of plantar fasciitis within the past year.  It often presents as intense foot pain at the bottom of the foot, in either the heel or entire foot.

Changes in activity level can stress the plantar fascia, and adding more miles or changing your workout routine can trigger the injury.  Even something as simple as new shoes can change the way the repetitive stress of running affects your foot.

To treat plantar fasciitis, try to determine the root cause and address it.  Temporarily reduce your workout routine to keep from making it worse, and actively stretch/massage your calves, which pull on the plantar fascia when activated or tight.

  1. Achilles Tendinitis

The Achilles Tendon generates as much as 50% of the propulsive energy during a runner’s push off, and it’s no surprise that with repeated steps, all of that energy takes a toll on even the strongest of soft tissues.  Achilles Tendinitis is responsible for as much as 11% of all running injuries, and 8% of runners experience it in an average year according to a Runners World poll.

This tightening and inflammation in the Achilles Tendon are often caused by an increase in training or tightness or muscular imbalance in the calves.  A change in training regimen to add more uphill work can also overwork the calves and cause this injury.  Be sure to take this injury seriously, as serious cases can take as much as 6 months to heal.  Be sure to treat it early to avoid losing time to enduring this painful injury.

The basic treatment routine of  R.I.C.E. or “Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation” has been shown to be effective in reducing inflammation and allowing the leg to heal.  Massage, in particular, has been shown to be an effective treatment, as well as any treatment regimen that compresses, mobilizes and attempts to realign the muscle fibers in the calves.  If you’re not able to try massage therapy, try adding an intensive foam rolling regimen to your training while reducing miles until the condition heals.