Rules of the Road for Preventing Running Injuries

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woman stretching before exercising

Running is one of the most effective ways to maintain good cardiovascular health, low body fat, and optimal overall tone and condition…but it is also a physically demanding activity that can cause injuries and pain. There are 4 general rules you can use to help keep yourself injury free if you are a runner:

1. Know your limits and “listen” to your body; don’t over-train or race too often

2. Cross-train and strength-train in addition to running

3. Warm up and then, stretch before you run

4. Run on level surfaces and wear the proper sneakers

The most common injuries suffered by runners are patellofemoral pain syndrome, also known as “runner’s knee,” iliotibial band (ITB) friction syndrome, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, stress fractures, and hamstring strains.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, “runner’s knee,” occurs when the cartilage on the inside surface of the patella (kneecap) rubs against the inner joint of the knee and thigh bone causing chondromalacia, a blistering of the cartilage. The pain experienced with runner’s knee is increased with walking down stairs or after sitting for a long period of time.

The iliotibial band is the large band of fascia that goes from your hip to your knee.  Iliotibial band syndrome is typically indicated by a band of pain on the outside of the knee or lower thigh, and usually includes a clicking with bending, on stairs, and on hills. The condition is often due to over-training.

Shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, occur when the muscles of the shin become overstretched, weakened, and inflamed. Excessive uphill or downhill running, running on tilted/uneven or hard surfaces or with worn out or improper running shoes can cause shin splints. Runners who overstride and land heavily on their heels increase the chance of shin splints.

Plantar fasciitis is indicated by pain and inflammation of the thick band of tissue running across the bottom of your foot and/or sharp heel pain, usually worst with the first steps in the morning and more common among heavier runners and those with improper footwear.

Achilles tendonitis, pain and inflammation of the tendon that attaches the calf to the heel, accounts for some 11% of all running injuries. Among the causes are excessive uphill running, tight calf muscles, and the wearing of high heels.

Stress fractures occur when muscles become too fatigued from overuse and can’t absorb the shock of repeated pounding on hard surfaces. The shock is transferred to tibia and the bones of the foot.

Hamstring strains usually are the result of an overextension of the leg caused by running too fast down hills, or muscle imbalances caused by running on sloped roads. Pain in the posterior mid-thigh region, behind the knee, or below the buttocks may indicate a hamstring strain.

Preventing these common injuries begins with proper warm ups and, then, stretching of the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, ITB, gluteus, and priformis. The right footwear is extremely important, too, and so are strength-training and cross-training. Above all, if you experience the pain indicating any of these injuries, the best thing you can do is allow your body to rest and heal. Pain is a clear sign you are doing something wrong or overdoing it.

Quite simply, don’t disregard what your body is trying to tell you.