Runner's Education: Guide to Understanding Common Running Injuries
As a runner, there are times when you will experience pain or discomfort during the run. It's important to be aware of your body and understand when it's okay to continue, and when you need to stop to prevent more severe injury. This is especially true for those training and participating in running events like half-marathons and 10k races.
Runners who maintain successful running careers know that discomfort is common, but also understand that it's important to consult medical staff during the race should the discomfort or pain continue to increase, if they start limping, feel ill or 'different', or experience chest, jaw or unusual arm discomfort.
Common Running Injuries
Following are common injuries runners may experience over the course of their lifetime of running. Remember, it's important to consult a medical professional if you have any concerns.
Runners often experience some level of knee pain. Typical areas of discomfort include around or behind the knee cap (patellofemoral pain syndrome), on the outside of the knee (IT band syndrome), or below the knee cap (infrapatellar tendonitis).
Patellofemoral syndrome: Patellofemoral stress syndrome (PFSS) is an aggravation to the tissue on the back of the knee cap. The discomfort may stay at a low level but can become very painful. If pain levels remain low the runner may continue but if pain level rises and the runner begins to limp, they should cease running and seek medical attention.
IT band syndrome: The IT band is a long band of tissue that originates at the hip and runs down the side of the leg attaching just below the knee. The typical are of pain is on the side of the knee above where the knee bends. This has been described as a friction problem with a bony bump and as a condition similar to a tendonitis. This often becomes very painful quickly and can be difficult to run through. Runners who change their running form because of the discomfort should cease running.
Infrapatellar tendonitis/tondinopathy: The infrapatellar tendon attaches the knee cap (patella) and the muscles of the thigh (quadriceps) to the lower leg. Athletes who suffering from an injury to this structure will have pain with foot impacts and may have pain with going up or down hills. This discomfort with this injury may be minor, allowing the athlete to complete the race. If the pain increases the athlete should seek medical advice.
A common area of discomfort for runners, the shin area can sustain injuries that can be significant that require medical attention.
Stress fractures: Runners will often suffer from vague discomfort on the bone of the shin (Tibia). When this discomfort is mild and does not worsen, runners can usually continue to run safely. If the pain continually increases or becomes significant, the runner should stop running and seek medical attention. It is possible the bone is breaking down from the stresses of running. Continued running through significant pain of the shin (tibia) can result in a broken leg (fracture) if mismanaged or ignored.
Compartment syndrome: The lower leg is divided into four sections know as compartments. Any of these four compartments can have an increase in pressure from increases in fluid volume and muscle bulk. The pressure can restrict blood flow and nerve conduction causing pressure, numbness, and pain. If a runner experiences significant lower leg pain or pressure, or if the athlete has foot numbness combined with lower leg pain, they should seek out medical attention. Foot numbness alone may not be a problem. The athlete should stop running, readjust their shoe and laces, and see if the numbness subsides.
Ankle discomfort is not uncommon for runners to experience on a daily basis. Continued participation by the runners is possible with many of these injuries but these may worsen and require the runner to seek medical attention.
Peroneal tendonitis/tendinopathy: This injury is characterized by discomfort that goes up the outside (lateral side) of the ankle behind the ankle bone (Lateral Malleolus). This discomfort may be mild or severe. The athlete should seek out medical attention if they are limping, have swelling, or are in significant pain.
Posterior tibial tendonitis/teninopathy: Similar to peroneal tendon pain, this discomfort may be mild or severe. Discomfort is experienced on the inside (medial side) of the ankle behind the ankle bone (Medial Malleolus). The athlete should seek out medical attention if they are limping, have swelling, or are in significant pain.
Ankle mortise pain: Pain on the front of the ankle where the ankle moves up and down indicates that an injury to one of the structures of the ankle mortise is possible. This discomfort may be mild or severe. Mild discomfort in this area is very common and if the discomfort remains mild the runner could continue to run the race. If there is significant pain, swelling, or if the athlete is limping the athlete should seek out medical attention.
Achilles tendonitis, tenosynovitis, or tendinopathy: Achiness often is the initial discomfort that an athlete feels with an injury to the Achilles from distance running. This discomfort may remain a mild ache or may rapidly increase to a significant pain. A runner could continue running with mild discomfort but should seek out medical attention after the race if the discomfort persists. The athlete should stop running and seek out medical attention if they are limping, have swelling, or are in significant pain.
Plantar Fasciits: An injury where pain usually appears either at the heel or just below the arch on the bottom of the foot. The plantar fascia is a broad band of tissue that extends the length of the bottom of the foot going from the heel to the base of the toes. Similar to infrapatellar tendonitis, discomfort with this injury may remain vague and allow the runner to continue, but often the discomfort will escalate rapidly forcing the runner to stop because of pain and limping.
Metatarsal stress fracture: While blisters are the most common foot ailment experienced by runners, metatarsal stress fractures are the most common significant injury to the foot for runners. Starting as a dull ache, stress injuries to the metatarsals typically progress rapidly causing a rapid increase in pain. This pain is usually in the area of the forefoot and may be painful or achy while weight bearing and may be achy while seated. This injury should not be ignored and the runner should cease running until examined by a medical professional.