Running is one of our favorite activities for developing our health. Studies show that pursuing an active lifestyle improves cardiovascular health, reduces stress, and increases your physical and mental well-being. Whether you’ve been running for years or starting for the first time, it’s important to know about common injuries that can keep you from reaching your fitness goals and how to avoid them.
Hamstring injuries are common among runners. They happen after pulling one of three muscle groups in the back of your thigh, which are used to extend your hips and flex your knees as you run. A damaged hamstring can take a long time to heal. They can also be easily reinjured if your muscles aren’t completely healed. People with hamstring issues typically experience:
- Sharp pain in the back of your thigh
- Muscle weakness in your leg
- Swelling around your hamstring
- Difficulty walking or staying active
Runner’s knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome) happens when you feel pain or tenderness around the front of your knee. Like hamstrings, your knees take on a lot of stress when running. And that pressure can cause lasting harm. Common runner’s knee symptoms include:
- Clicking or grinding sounds from your knees
- Tenderness in your kneecaps
- Pain in your kneecaps after walking or being active
- Tightness in your Achilles tendons
Making up roughly 15% of all runner’s injuries, shin splints are medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome. They are characterized by tenderness or pain along the inner side of the shin bone and are sometimes accompanied by swelling of the lower leg. Here are a few common signs and symptoms of shin splints:
- Pain in your shin bone
- A dull ache or soreness in the front part of your lower leg
- Muscle tension
- Swelling in your lower leg
- Numbness or weakness in your feet
Stress fractures occur when too much strain is placed on your feet, heel or shin bones while running or staying active. They differ from acute fractures by developing gradually rather than instantaneously, which allows them to be preventable if you take the right precautions. They are also one of the more common and serious injuries encountered by runners. Symptoms include:
- Pain that intensifies during a run or other activities
- Bruising or swelling on the top of your foot
- Tenderness after touching your feet
- Pain that subsides after resting
“More than half of all [running injuries] can be avoided just by listening to your body and preparing it better,” says Lisa Callahan, MD, co-director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery, in New York City.
Tips for avoiding running injuries:
Roughly 70 percent of runners get injured, so it’s important to prepare your body before getting active to avoid getting hurt. If you start experiencing any of the symptoms covered above, use the following tips to reduce your risks of hurting yourself on your next sprint.
Many of the injuries we’ve discussed are often caused by a lack of flexibility in the muscle group you’re working out. We recommend doing a 10-minute warm-up run and stretching before getting active. Prepping this way will energize your body and get you limber enough to keep you safe and protect your body.
Putting too much immediate stress on your body is an easy way to cause any running injuries. One of the best ways to avoid a running injury is to start off slow when building a running routine. Specifically, you should increase your mileage slowly. While it’s tempting to push yourself as hard as possible to meet your running goals, progressing at a slow and steady pace could keep you from getting hurt.
Some experts recommend increasing your mileage by 5-10% each week. However, if you are new to running, an older runner, or have experienced a previous injury, try running the same mileage for three or four weeks before adding more distance.
Staying hydrated is one of the easiest ways to prevent dehydration. Aim for 16 – 20 ounces of fluid two hours before your run to keep your body refreshed. Try to drink an additional 6 – 8 ounces every 15 – 20 minutes during your exercise as well. It’s also important to stay hydrated throughout the rest of the day after your jog too.
Find the right footwear
The shoes you wear during your workout are crucial in helping you prevent an injury. Avoid running in footwear that’s not designed for jogging or running. We recommend finding a sports store specializing in athletic footwear to find the right pair of shoes to fit your running style and feet.
When to see a doctor about a running injury
If you are experiencing pain or swelling in your knees, hamstrings, shins, or anywhere in your leg, particularly during or after a run, contact one of our physical therapists to make an appointment with NWPC.
Without proper treatment, these common running injuries will only get worse. We can help you recover in the correct way, and teach you additional techniques that will prevent other injuries so you can always enjoy the benefits of running.