From knee pain to stress fractures, know when to rest – and when to get help. By Anna Medaris Miller
If you come across a group of runners on the street, in a coffee shop or on an online forum, chances are they’re discussing one of three things: hydration issues, running schedules or injuries, says Joe English, a multi-sport athlete and coach in Portland, Oregon. And, if the topic is injuries, chances are there’s little consensus on, say, how long the sufferer should rest, whether to soothe it with ice or a foam roller and which practitioner to see. “Running injuries are super common, but there’s a lot of different information out there about how you deal with them,” English says. Here, he and other experts set the record straight.
The best offense is a good defense.
Whether it’s a slight shin irritation or a full-blown stress fracture, most running-related injuries can be traced back to a few causes: poor planning, a poor warmup, poor form or pushing too hard, says Nathan DeMetz, an online personal trainer based in Goshen, Indiana. “People are driving their feet down rapidly into the ground, and that damage can start to add up really quickly,” he says. Working with professionals, be they running coaches, personal trainers, physical therapists or sports medicine doctors, can help keep injuries at bay. But if it’s already too late, read on to learn how to identify and cope with five common running-related injuries:
1. Runner’s knee
About 50 percent of running injuries are knee-related, estimates Robert Gillanders, a physical therapist in Bethesda, Maryland, and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association. It’s easy to see why: The sport requires your knees to repetitively endure shock from the ground below and from body weight above the joint. If your gait’s a bit off, your training too accelerated or your shoes imperfectly fitted, that strain will add up – often to pain around the kneecap, aka runner’s knee. While rest is key, treatment may also include new shoes, dialed back mileage or quad-strengthening exercises. A sports medicine doc or physical therapist can help make the call.
2. IT band syndrome
Not all running-related knee pain is considered runner’s knee. If the outer, not front, of the joint is making you wince, it’s likely your IT band, a stretch of connective tissue that runs from your hip to your knee. “It’s almost like gristle that provides support for the outside of the knee,” Gillanders says. Running with IT band syndrome, which occurs more in women because wider hips ask more of the tissue, will only bring on pain earlier in runs. “There’s almost no way to get rid of it without resting it and getting ice on it and getting treatment,” English says. Foam rolling and expert-guided strength and balance work often help.
3. Achilles pain
Fifty percent of runners injure their Achilles tendons – the thick band of tissue joining the calf muscles with the heel – at some point during their careers, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. That’s partly because the band endures a lot of strain and doesn’t have a rich blood supply, which can prolong the healing cycle, Gillanders says. Men are particularly prone to Achilles injuries because they tend to have tighter calves than women. Like many running-related injuries, a good prevention and treatment technique for Achilles pain is flexibility work. “For every hour of running, you should really be doing an hour of a stretching-focused activity” like yoga, English says.
4. Plantar fasciitis
Sometimes, that same calf tightness can lead to shin splints or heel pain known as plantar fasciitis, which is most likely in runners who are heavier, have ramped up their routines too quickly and have flatter feet, among other risk factors, APTA reports. To treat heel pain, again, rest and professional help is key. Physical therapists may, for example, guide you in stretching exercises, prescribe icing and help you identify shoes or braces that can support your foot as it heals. Once you get back on your feet, you might try switching up your running surface to something softer, like a dirt path, grass or a track, English says.
5. Stress fractures
If you have a stress fracture and try to hop on the leg that hurts, your body won’t let you – it knows it will be too darn painful. “That’s when we take you out of a race,” English says. You can also identify the injury – essentially little cracks in the bone that can shatter – if one dime-sized spot, usually on the shin or under your foot, hurts to the touch. While one of the most serious running injuries, a stress fracture isn’t the only one that should send you to a sports medicine clinic. If you visit one, English says, “you’ll be back in business much faster than doing anything on your own.”
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a proper health care professional.