We’re hitting the peak summer training months, and if you’re training for anything from a 5K to a marathon, it’s common to start experiencing aches and pains. For the next three months, we’ll be exploring the ins and outs of runner injuries with tips from experts and stories from our ShokzSquad community. From common causes, how to cope when injured, and ways to optimize your training to reduce injury risk, we’ll have something for everyone. Be sure to follow us on social to get our latest tips and insights.
We know running injuries can be hard to navigate, so to kick things off we partnered with Dr. Zack McCormick, an Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Fellowship Director at the University of Utah School of Medicine, to summarize some of the most common running injuries. He breaks down how to identify signs of these injuries, common causes, and ways to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
You’ll notice that some key themes emerge from this common injuries guide. Running can be hard on the body - it’s a series of repetitive motions that can magnify lots of weaknesses and imbalances. As you start running more, be sure to add mileage gradually and mix in cross-training exercises to strengthen some common weakness areas.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome (IT Band Syndrome or ITBS)
ITBS pain often appears as pain in the lateral knee where the fibers of the IT band glide over the knee, but runners can often experience pain near their hip bone as well. The IT Band, which runs down the outer length of the thigh, becomes overly tight and irritated near these bony prominences. Because you may experience pain in your knee and/or hip, you may not even realize it’s your IT Band that’s the culprit!
A primary cause for ITBS is a weak butt (your gluteus medius, minimus, and maximus). Those muscles are important stabilizers for your hips and prevent them from tipping back and forth too much, particularly in single leg stance, which occurs when you are running. When those muscles are weak, the IT Band accepts more load and can become tight and painful. It can also cause local irritation and inflammation near your lateral hip and knee bones, mentioned above. As you add mileage, the condition may worsen, especially if your distance and intensity increase too quickly.
The best way to prevent or treat ITBS is through soft tissue work, such as foam rolling or massage to the area, to keep that area loose. RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) can also help if you start experiencing any irritation. And exercises that strengthen your glutes and hips will help correct the imbalance as you continue training.
Plantar Fasciitis (PF)
Plantar Fasciitis or PF is foot pain and tenderness caused by inflammation where fibrous tissue in the arch of your foot connects to the heel bone. A few common causes include increasing mileage or workout intensity too quickly (sense a theme here?), weak foot and ankle muscles, and not enough recovery.
There are a few different ways to prevent PF. Similar to ITBS, a mixture of soft tissue work (rolling your foot with a golf or lacrosse ball), heat, and ice can help work out the tightness, reduce swelling, and relieve pain. You could also try rolling your foot on a frozen water bottle to combine self-massage and anti-inflammatory ice treatment.
Additionally, a variety of exercises can strengthen your foot muscles to help address the issue long-term.
- Single-leg balance exercises will strengthen the muscles around your ankle. Try standing on one foot while you brush your teeth or during other daily tasks.
- Sit in a chair and place a towel on the floor in front of you. Use your toes to grip and grasp the edge of the towel closest to you, attempting to pull the towel towards you with only your toes until it is completely scrunched up under your foot.
- Get into a squatting position and then lift your heels, so your weight is on the balls of your feet. This will create dorsiflexion in your big toe to help stretch the muscles in the arch of your foot as well as the plantar fascia.
- Any other Achilles or calf stretches will also help, but be sure to warm up a bit and ease into any stretches!
Achilles Tendinopathy or Tendinitis
If you’re experiencing posterior heel pain above your heel bone, it could be your Achilles tendon. This occurs more frequently with forefoot runners (running on the balls of your feet) vs. heel strikers. It’s a nagging pain that results from persistent use and can be challenging to prevent. The key here is calf flexibility, which creates less stress on your Achilles tendon, so be sure to stretch those calves!
Not surprising - RICE can also help with Achilles tendinitis. If you start to feel pain in that area, other strengthening exercises can help correct any imbalances to prevent it from getting worse. It can be hard to target your Achilles tendon, so a helpful trick is to try eccentric loading exercises, which involve applying weight or strain when you lengthen your muscle vs. flex your muscle. One way to do this is to stand at the edge of a step facing the staircase. Using the power of your non-affected leg, raise your calf, so you are standing on your tiptoe. Then, transfer your weight to the injured side still on your tiptoe, and lower your heel to eccentrically load the affected Achilles tendon. Repeat.
This sounds scary, but it’s not as scary as it sounds and is relatively common. As with many of these ailments, they occur due to repetitive stress on the same area. With a foot stress fracture, it’s no different, often occurring in the metatarsals (the long bones in your foot). If the pain in your foot is so bad that you can’t jump up and down on one foot at a time, it might be a stress fracture.
After proper rest and recovery (which typically requires immobilization in a walking boot), make sure you increase your mileage gradually and give yourself adequate recovery weeks (decreased mileage) during your training cycle. Next, think about good bone health. If you are Vitamin D or Calcium deficient, you may want to consider a supplement. Be sure to consult your physician.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS)
Yes, we saved the strangest sounding one for last! What is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome? Essentially, when you bend your knee, your knee cap (the patella) is meant to glide centrally with respect to your knee joint. But if it glides laterally too much, it can rub against the other bones of the knee joint, causing inflammation, wear, and tear to the cartilage. It will feel like pain in the front of your knee, and it is most commonly felt walking up and down stairs, in a deep knee bend, or after sitting with your knees bent for an extended period (like in a car or a movie theater).
While chronic overuse can cause PFPS, it’s also more common if your feet overpronate, you have wide hips (which increase that lateral patellar motion), or you have weak lateral hip muscles. Similar to ITBS, the best way to prevent PFPS is to strengthen your hip muscles, especially your glutes.
While many of these common runner injuries sound scary, the key is knowing that the causes are easy to identify. If pain persists, it is best to seek consultation with a physician. Finding time to fit in extra exercises is always challenging, but remember that the time invested at the beginning will keep you on the roads.