Even with the best shoes and ideal running conditions, runners can suffer injuries related to stressed muscles and overworked joints. If you ignore these common, simple injuries, you risk worse problems with long-term effects. If your body is telling you that something is wrong, it’s a good idea to stop and find out what is causing the pain. Here are several of the most common issues and advised treatment.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
The colloquial name for patellofemoral pain syndrome is “runner’s knee,” a common condition among runners. Running hard, especially with bad habits like constant foot rolling, can bring on this injury. It is also associated with a lack of strength in the quads, glutes and hips — a common cause of many runner injuries that puts too much stress on parts of the body that cannot handle it, such as the tissues in the knee. Over time, poor running habits eventually cause the cartilage and ligaments of the patella to develop small tears and grow inflamed. The result is knee pain that hits after a run or when the knee is placed in an awkward position for a few hours. While a relatively minor injury, when runner’s knee strikes it is best to take it easy for a several days and apply ice packs to the knee. Aspirin may prove helpful in managing the symptoms.
To prevent runner’s knee in the long term, you need to take some of the pressure up the knee itself. The best way is to strength quad and hip muscles through targeted strength training and uphill running. It may also be time to check out your running form and make sure you are not rolling your feet inward.
Shin splints tend to hit athletes beginning their training season or people who are starting to run for the first time. While the name indicates breaking bones, what really causes this stabbing pain on the front of the legs is a collection of tears in the muscles lining the tibia due to an imbalance of leg muscle strength. If you have feet with unusual characteristics, like high arches, you may be more susceptible to shin splints, and should look for footwear designed to meet your needs. Shin splits can also be a sign that your running shoes are simply too old for the job.
Pain hits soon after a run begins and makes it very difficult to keep going. Powering through the pain can cause further tears and inflammation. Instead, apply ice and take pain relievers while you take a few days off to allow the muscle to repair. Remember to stretch frequently throughout the day to help avoid muscle tightness, which can bring on this problem. Targeting your front leg muscles, particularly the tibialis anterior, with strength training exercises can also help prevent shin splints.
Plantar fasciitis refers to the inflammation of the tendons and ligaments that connect the bones in your ankles and feet. This problem tends to strike runners with specific issues, especially high or low arches, which stretch the ligaments in the foot more than usual. The inflammation can be compounded by standing all day on hard surfaces, so your day job may play a role too. This pain strikes the very bottom of the foot. The inflammation will feel like you bruised your arch, leading to a deep ache that may aggravate you most when you rest or walk
To combat the symptoms, find a pair of shoes with proper protection and start working more on your core. A doctor will be able to give you more precise advice by examining your feet. Serious plantar fasciitis injuries can take many months to heal and may require a significant change to your workout plans. Lots of rest with your foot up and frequent ice packs can help speed your recovery. You can also roll and stretch your foot (gently pulling your toes back with your hands, for example) to help maintain flexibility while it heals.
Hamstrings are key muscles in the back of the thigh that accomplish some of the most powerful, necessary movements when running. Weak or stiff hamstrings, however, can easily tear or pull. A severe pull can lay a runner up for months with harsh pain along the hamstring muscle, so prevention is one of the best options for this issue. The first thing you may notice is tightness in the back of your thighs, followed by aching and noticeable bruises. A full tear is unmistakable, with sharp pain and a loss of support in your upper leg that makes it difficult to walk.
Working out the core and the hamstring muscles is critical to preventing tears. For minor tears, several days of intermittent ice and rest can help speed the healing process. Take it slow when you start running again, and stretch your hamstrings when at rest to help avoid stiffness and tight muscles.
The Achilles tendonis responsible for connecting the calf muscles to the bones in your heel and providing key support to the lower leg. This small but vital tendon can grow stressed and inflamed, causing pain in the back of the calf near the ankle. Inflammation is more likely with frequent, high-impact training when the tendon is already tight but is forced to endure more activity. This starts as a feeling of stiffness in the bottom of your leg and progresses to an aching heel, a swollen ankle and sharp pain in your lower calf when you start running.
Much like shin splints, Achilles tendinitis comes from running too much too soon, and should not be ignored. Rest and strengthening the calves is advised to prevent further injury. Regular stretching can also loosen the calf and help prevent injuries.
An ankle sprain occurs when you roll your ankle too far to the left or right and tear a ligament. This occurs most often when runners trip or hit a patch of uneven ground. The ankle is a complex joint that connects three different bones and has plenty of ligaments and tendons that can tear when it is wrenched to far or too fast. Runners with ankle sprains often experience acute pain and rapid swelling throughout the ankle region. The ankle can hurt so much that it is difficult to put weight on it.
To mitigate the swelling and severe pain, rest, apply ice and take pain relievers. Ankle braces and even crutches may be necessary for recovery, so if you have a serious sprain do not hesitate to visit the doctor for more detailed treatment options.