The first time I experienced knee pain as a runner was confusing. On the one hand, I thought I should push through the pain because “no pain no gain”…right? But on the other hand, the more I ran, the WORSE my knee felt.
In my gut, I knew something was wrong. But as a beginner, I had NO IDEA what running injuries actually were. I didn’t understand that my approach to running was causing the injury. It was not due to running itself.
You see, statistics show 60-80% of runners get injured every year. Those numbers represent anything from a minor nuisance to a running ending injury. But regardless of the severity, the simple fact is that a majority of runners develop an injury each year. And some injuries are more common than others.
Here’s the thing – it’s critical to change the way you view running injuries. Understand that if you experience pain while running, then you are the one causing it.
This understanding can be discouraging, but it does not have to be. I say this because if you are the one causing the injury, then you are the one who can cure it. And all it takes is a few simple adjustments in your approach.
That’s where I come in. Keep reading and learn the adjustments you need to make. First I will break down running injuries by category. Next, I will explain what causes running injuries. You will then receive a breakdown of the 5 most common running injuries. And finally, I will end with 12 tips you can use TODAY to both treat and prevent running injuries.
Sound like some information worth reading?
Great! Let’s get started. Let’s discuss the two main categories of running injuries.
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The Two Categories of Running Injuries
Running injuries can be frustrating. With different pains shooting from different parts of your body, it’s sometimes difficult to determine the specific injury you have.
Also, running injuries can seem one of a kind. Like it’s unique to your circumstances. But the truth is running injuries are common. You can sum them up in two categories: acute or chronic. Keep reading as I explain both.
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- Have you ever fell down while running and scraped your knee?
- Ever sprain your ankle?
- Or hit your head on a tree branch?
Each one of these examples represents an acute injury. Basically, it’s the kind of injury that just happens.
Maybe you tripped over a curb or ran into a car, or maybe even broke a bone. As you can see, these injuries are non-preventable. They are accidental in nature.
To avoid an acute injury just be careful. You must take the necessary precautions while running. Remember – safety first above all.
Although acute injuries happen from time to time, they are not the most common when you run. The injuries that develop most frequently are chronic running injuries. I will explain them now.
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Chronic injuries are better known as overuse injuries. The majority of runners suffer from this type of injury. Pain will usually surface repetitively and get worse over time. It’s that pain in your knee or lower leg that seems to linger no matter what preventative actions you take.
And here’s the worst part: chronic injuries have the chance to turn into acute injuries if you are not careful. So, it’s essential to take precaution if you begin to develop an overuse pain.
Yes, there is “good pain” when you run. An example of good pain is when your legs are sore from physical exertion. If you push through this pain, then you will become a better runner. Here is when you increase endurance or speed. But there is also bad pain, like pain from an injury. If you push through this pain, you will do damage.
If you are unsure what pain you are experiencing then visit a doctor. This will provide a direct path to a quicker recovery.
However, if you’re anything like me, you will try to handle the situation yourself. If this sounds like you then I’d like to offer a tip. That is, if the pain you are experiencing is only on one side, then you are most likely experiencing BAD pain. For example, if only your right knee hurts or left heel, chances are it’s “bad pain.”
If the pain is one-sided, it’s critical to stop and analyze your situation. Here is when you should take action towards your recovery, not your training program.
So, now that you know overuse injuries are the most common, the question becomes…”What actually causes overuse injuries?”
Let’s answer this question in the following section.
What Causes Overuse Running Injuries?
The reason why you develop overuse running injuries can seem like a mystery. Especially if you are new to running. But the truth is…it’s not. There are only a few reasons why you are experiencing an overuse injury. Here are the three main reasons…
1. The Wrong Shoes
Yes, believe it or not, wearing the wrong shoes cause injury. That’s why the further or longer you run the worse your injury becomes.
Think about it. Let’s say you have flat feet which cause you to overpronate. Naturally, your foot will excessively roll inwards. In this case, it’s ideal to buy a shoe made for overpronation.
A supportive shoe designed for overpronation will come with an inner support system. This support will evenly distribute impact when your feet strike the ground.
With extra support, you are no longer running on the inside of your feet. Your body weight is no longer unbalanced while running. You are now running evenly thus preventing injury.
But let’s say you unknowingly buy a shoe designed for supination with flat feet. This becomes a HUGE problem because a supination shoe supports runners with high arches. And runner’s feet with high arches typically roll outwards when their foot strikes the ground.
Could you imagine what this type of support could do for a runner with flat feet? That is, putting support on the outside of the shoe causing a further degree of pronation?
It will WREAK HAVOC on your lower legs!
Runner’s knee and plantar fasciitis is only the start. Now the more you run, the more injured you become.
The problem for most beginner runners is they have no idea shoes can cause injuries. And worse, if you are entirely new to running, then you may think the pain is normal.
That’s why it is CRITICAL to buy a shoe that matches your footstrike. You will thank yourself in the long run.
2. Poor Technique
The second most common cause of overuse running injuries is poor technique. Most runners tend to lean back and heel strike. But if running is “controlled falling,” then heel striking is like applying a set of brakes. Each time your heel strikes the ground, it sends a powerful shock straight to your lower legs and knees. And in running your foot strikes the ground A LOT.
Here is where most knee problems develop.
Heel striking can lead to injury FAST. Yes, most shoes come with cushioned heels just for this reason, but it’s essential to work on a proper form. This will help ensure an injury-free experience.
Poor form throws your body off balance. Bending at the waist, feet pointing outwards, and heel striking are all examples of bad form. Run like this and the possibility of injury increases drastically.
So what can you do to fix your running form starting TODAY?
Here are 5 simple tricks you can apply right NOW…
- Lean forward
- Land mid-foot
- Keep feet straight
- Take short strides
- Relax your body
Follow these tips, and you are off to a great start. There’s plenty of videos available online providing instructions on each. Practice one at a time and do not rush. Do this, and you can watch your injuries begin to dissolve.
3. Too Much Running Too Soon
As beginners, we are excited to run. And as experts, we are hungry to succeed. We want to progress, and we want to do it fast. But here’s the problem: it takes time for your body to stress, adapt, and grow.
Consider this: if you just run, run, and run then you are only experiencing stress, stress, and stress. You are allowing no time for recovery. Enough repetitive stress without time to heal can lead to injury. And it does so for both beginner and expert runners.
If you remember anything remember this: you do not gain endurance while running, you gain endurance while recovering.
As a beginner, I recommend not running more than 3 days per week. There are plenty of training programs that support this. Even as an advanced runner myself, I don’t run more than 3 days per week. And that’s one of the reasons I race incredibly long distances over and over again.
By running less often, I stay injury free.
It takes patience to master long distance running…so take your time.
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The 5 Most Common Running Injuries
Now that you understand what causes running injuries let’s discuss them individually. Read on for the 5 most common running injuries.
1. Patellofemoral Stress Syndrome (PFSS)
Also known as runner’s knee, PFSS occurs when there is damage to the tissue of the kneecap. Typically, the damage occurs behind the kneecap. It can range anywhere from a minor irritation to a full-fledged painful experience.
When it comes to running with patellofemoral stress syndrome, you typically experience the most pain at the beginning of your run. But as your body warms up the pain fades away. Then each run after will become more painful.
Runner’s knee can also create pain in the morning when you first get out of bed. It’s the most common running injury there is, and it can last the longest.
2. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)
Also known as IT band syndrome, ITBS is a chronic injury of the knee. The IT Band refers to a long tendon that runs down the length of the thigh attaching below the knee. Unlike runner’s knee where the pain is inside the kneecap, ITBS creates pain on the side of the knee. The pain is usually above where the knee bends. IT band syndrome can become too painful to run through. It can prevent you from fully extending your knee thus preventing you from running. It’s not as common as runner’s knee but still affects up to 12% of ALL runners.
3. Shin Splints
When you experience pain on the front of your lower leg, chances are its shin splints. Unlike other injuries, you can typically still run with shin splints. Using athletic tape will help. But if the pain consists it may require a doctor’s visit. Push it too far, and you could end up with a fractured shin bone. So be cautious.
4. Achilles Tendonitis
Simply put, achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury of the achilles tendon. The achilles tendon is a tissue band that connects the heel bone to the calf muscles. Like most common running injuries, achilles tendonitis typically develops from running too much too soon. Remember, a healthy runner is one that progresses slowly. They allow their body to adapt and grow gradually.
5. Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is the most common foot injury for runners. The pain you experience from plantar fasciitis is usually found at the arch or heel. The injury develops from damaging your plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is a band of tissue that starts at the heel and stretches to the base of the toes. Like most overuse injuries, the pain starts small but gets worse with each new run if left untreated.
So, now that you have a brief understanding of the 5 most common running injuries, let’s answer THE question. Let’s answer THE question that’s been in your mind since the start of this guide…
The question is this: “How in the world do I get rid of my injury?”
Don’t worry, I have some effective tips to help. Read on as I provide 12 tips you can apply TODAY to both treat and prevent running injuries.
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12 Incredibly Useful Tips to Treat & Prevent Running Injuries
Your steps towards treating your injury will also be the same steps to prevent it. That’s because running injuries develop from doing something wrong. So doing something right will treat your current injury AND prevent a new one from surfacing.
With that said, here are the 12 tips for preventing and treating common running injuries…
First, you should practice RICE with an injury and after more strenuous runs. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. If you have an injury, start by taking at least two weeks off. This is your REST period.
Yes, taking a few weeks off may slow your progression. But considering the circumstances, it may not affect it at all. You see, it takes 10-14 days even to begin to lose endurance. So, even with two full weeks off from running, you are not losing much ground at all.
The second and third part of the acronym, COMPRESSION, and ICE, can be performed together. Simply pick up a cold compression wrap and apply it periodically to the injury. 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off. Some wraps even come with a hand pump for extra compression. The combination of ice and compression will help speed recovery.
Lastly, make sure when using a cold compression wrap to ELEVATE the injury. This helps reduce the amount of blood flow that spends time in the injured area. Elevating the injury will reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain…a receipt for a quicker recovery.
2. Wear the Right Shoes
As mentioned earlier, it’s essential to wear a shoe that compliments your footstrike. Determine if you overpronate, underpronate (supinate), or have a neutral stride. If you are unsure, then visit your local running store.
If you are too busy then here’s a tip: runners with flat feet typically overpronate while runners with high arches tend to supinate.
Also, if you have an injury already, I recommend finding a cushion and supportive shoe. This will provide extra shock absorption and compensate for poor running form.
The right shoe means you no longer have the wrong shoe, and that can make all the difference in the world.
3. Practice Proper Running Form
As mentioned earlier, if you practice those 5 simple tricks to improve running form then you will prevent and possibly even get rid of your injury. The 5 tricks are lean forward, land mid-foot, keep feet straight, take short strides, and relax your body.
Practice these 5 simple tricks, and you will make HUGE strides in your battle against running injuries.
4. Progress Slowly
Progressive training is the foundation of long distance running. Developing endurance cannot be rushed. If you do rush then your chances of injury and burnout significantly increase. I recommend following the 10% rule.
The 10% rule states your distance or time should increase only by 10% each week.
For example, if you run a total of 20 miles this week, then only run 22 miles next week. Or if you ran for 3 hours this week, you should only run for 3 hours and 18 minutes next week (assuming you are running at the same pace).
By applying the 10% rule, you are controlling your progression. You are no longer putting too much stress on your body too fast. At this pace, injuries are much less likely to occur.
5. Strengthen the Muscles Around The Injury
To treat and prevent running injuries, strengthen the muscles around the injury or where you are prone to become injured: knees, legs, feet, and ankles. You can do this with body weight or weight training.
Personally, I prefer bodyweight exercises like leg raises, hip flexors, and swimming. It provides enough stress to the injury to fasten recover time, but not too much where you risk making it worse. So, play around with a few different exercises and find a program that works best for you.
6. Increase Flexibility with Yoga
Maintaining good flexibility will prevent running injuries. If you remember, one of the tricks to better running form is to relax your body. You don’t want to run stiff. Flexibility will allow your body to become more mobile. It will increase your range of motion.
Personally, yoga has had the most significant impact on my flexibility as a runner. I had NO idea how inflexible I was until I started bending my body in different yoga positions.
Want to try yoga?
You can follow an online video at home or join a class. Once you gain enough experience, you can even go off on your own.
If you decide to start yoga, here’s some advice: stay humble, take your time through each pose, and don’t rush the process. Yoga, just like running, takes patience and a consistent effort. So don’t force a pose. Your body needs time to adapt.
Also, yoga will strengthen your core. Having a strong core will support the rest of your body. It provides an increase in strength as well as better posture. Yoga is a win-win when it comes to treating and preventing running injuries.
7. Use a Foam Roller
Implementing a foam roller will benefit you in two ways. First, it increases circulation which promotes a quicker recovery. And second, it loosens up your muscles and tendons. This prevents future injuries from occurring.
I use a foam roller routinely. It has made a big difference in preventing future injuries from occurring.
If you are dealing with IT band syndrome, then I HIGHLY recommend using a foam roller. Work it into your daily routine. Using a foam roller will loosen up the IT Band and help relieve an enormous amount of tension in your legs.
WARNING: when you first use a foam roller it will be painful. The fact is your muscles are still soft and tender. But once you make it a daily practice, the pain will go away. One day it feels like torture, and the next…a day at the spa.
To ease into foam rolling, put one leg on the roller and one leg on the ground. This will take some weight off your leg thus providing a more comfortable experience.
8. Walk to Warm Up
Warm up before each run. Start by walking for 5-10 minutes and then bring it to a slow jog. Finally, start running at your desired pace.
Warming up your body will ease it into running. It gives your body enough time to loosen up before picking up the pace. As you can imagine, this will prevent injury.
Although flexibility is necessary, I do not recommend stretching before a run during your warm up. This can also lead to injury since your body is too tight. Slowly running and gradually easing into your run is the best warm up. It will help prevent injury from being stiff, tired, and cold.
9. Listen to Your Body
As I mentioned earlier, there is a difference between “good pain” and “bad pain.” GOOD pain is “pain from gain,” and if you push against it, you will expand by demand. Bad pain is “pain from strain,” and if you push against this pain, you will become injured. That’s why it’s essential to listen to your body when pain arises.
If it doesn’t feel safe, then chances are it’s not. Push your limits but be careful it’s not the limits of an injury.
10. Eat Clean and Healthy
When you eat healthily, you become leaner and more balanced. You also have more energy for running and stay consistent in your form and posture.
Eating healthy is the foundation of everything in our lives, including running.
You can’t build a house on a shaky foundation just like you can’t be a healthy runner without eating healthy foods. You will carry yourself better and avoid more injuries from excessive body weight and fatigue.
What can you do to eat healthier?
Simple, eliminate as much processed foods as possible. Eat a diet rich in green water-soluble vegetables. And watch the sugary drinks.
Remember—a few small steps every day towards a healthy lifestyle will have a HUGE impact on your prevention towards injury.
11. Use Athletic Tape
In some cases, athletic tape allows you to continue running with an overuse injury. Different medical professionals use different methods of taping. It’s wise to consult your medical professional before trying it yourself. There’s also plenty of videos available online that provide directions on how to apply tape to your injury.
Taping methods are dependent on the type of injury you are experiencing.
It’s important to note that athletic tape is only a short-term fix. Yes, it helps you run when pain arises. However, it doesn’t deal with the cause of the injury.
12. Change Your Mind
Change your mindset. Don’t identify with your injury. It’s not “my injury” it’s “an injury.” Many runners identify themselves with an injury so much that it becomes a part of who they are. Unknowingly they have made it much more difficult to recover.
They say “my bad back” or “my bad knees.” But identifying with an injury only provides an excuse for not treating it. It lets you off the hook.
Long distance running takes self-discipline.
Remember, 100-year-old runners have crossed the finish line of a marathon. Just last month the oldest man in history finished an Iron Man. And a few months prior a woman shattered the 70+ age marathon record.
The point is this: your limitations are only created in your mind. There’s a solution to your injury, so learn it, and become a better runner from it.
Looking back, every single injury I ever experienced helped me become a better runner. A runner able to identify excuses and find solutions to the many problems that arise.
No, I’m not saying injuries are something you should wish for. But what I will say is if you have an injury, try to learn from it instead of regret it. Acknowledge the injury, do not identify with it, and use it as an advantage to become a better runner.
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As you now know, running injuries are widespread. Overuse injuries of the knees, lower legs, and feet develop in most runners. But by reading this guide, you now understand running injuries. And most importantly, you now know how to treat and prevent them so you can get back to running as quick as possible.
But remember—just reading this will not heal your injuries.
So, what’s the most important step you can take for your running injury?
The answer: ACTION
Take action TODAY so you can be a healthy injury-free runner TOMORROW.