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Running is one of the most popular exercises in the world, however it is also one of the leading cause of sports-related injuries. Most running injuries occur when you introduce a change to your running program suddenly without giving your body time to adapt to the change. The most common areas affected are the hips, knees, legs and feet.

In this article we examine the different types of injuries associated with running as well as tips on how you can minimise your risk and prevent running injuries.

Different types of running injuries

Runner’s knee – This is a common overuse injury. Runner’s knee has the medical name of Patella Femoral Pain Syndrome and usually presents itself when going up or down stairs or hills, squatting, sitting with the knee bent for a long time. The cause can often be poor footwear (old or the wrong shoes) and or a muscle imbalance around the patella (knee cap) or pelvis.

Stress fracture – This is a small crack in a bone that causes pain and discomfort that is worse during exercise and eases with rest. It typically affects runners in the shin and feet and is often due to doing too much running or running too quickly before your body gets used to a new activity. Rest is important, as continued stress on the bone can lead to more serious injury.

Shin pain – Is a common name for a number of conditions affecting the soft tissues in the front or inside of the lower leg or the shin bone (tibia).  Shin pain is common after a change in activity, such as running longer distances or increasing the number of days you run consecutively.  As with other running injuries, footwear and lower limb strength/ control can also contribute to the development of shin pain.

Achilles tendon pain – This can be an inflammation or non-inflammatory. Pain in the Achilles is usually caused by repetitive stress to the tendon, often due to increasing running distance too quickly or changing the type of running too quickly. Tight calf muscles and/or wrong, worn-out shoes can also contribute.

Ankle sprain – Injury to the ligaments around the ankle joint is usually the result of an acute episode or trauma (like rolling it over the edge of a footpath).  Following an initial treatment of rest, ice, compression, and elevating the foot, sprains typically get better with time. This is one injury you can’t predict but one you can minimise the risk of occurring by avoiding running on uneven surfaces, when you are tired or at night or when there is poor visibility.

Plantar Fasciitis – This can be an inflammatory or overuse injury to the Plantar Fascia, which is a band of connective tissue running from your heel to forefoot on the sole of your foot that helps maintain the arch during gait (a persons manner of movement such as walking or running). People with tight calf muscles and a high arch are more prone to Plantar Fasciitis. But it can equally occur in people with flat or pronated feet. Although it may be linked to an increase in activity or poor footwear, Plantar Fasciitis may occur without any identifiable reason and can become chronic if poorly managed.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) – This syndrome causes pain on the outside of the knee. The iliotibial band is a band of tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh from the hip to the outside of the knee. It usually occurs in long distance runners and or people that train on open roads and run off the camber of these roads or, again, have the wrong footwear that doesn’t suit their foot type.

Blisters – These are fluid-filled sacks on the surface of the skin. They are caused by friction between your shoes/socks and skin. To help prevent blisters, start using new shoes gradually, wear the correct shoe that suits your foot, wear good quality socks, apply petroleum jelly on areas prone to blisters.

Tips to Prevent Running Injuries

The best way to prevent any injury is to listen to your body and to rehabilitate well after any injury. One of the best predictors for any injury is a previous injury to that body part or limb. By taking a few precautions and planning, you can prevent many common running injuries. Here’s some easy tips you can follow:

Listen to your body – Don’t ignore pain! A little soreness is okay, but if you notice consistent pain in a muscle, tendon or joint that doesn’t get better with rest, see a physiotherapist.

Create a running plan –  Before beginning a running program, talk to an Exercise Physiologist or coach who can help you create a running plan that is in line with your current fitness and abilities to best achieve your long-term goal(s).

Warm-up and stretch – Whist there is no evidence that these directly prevent injuries, many injuries occur as a result of muscle imbalances/tightness. Prior to exercise, a dynamic warm-up is recommended. Post exercise it is recommended to complete a cool down which may include stretches. People participating in running should also complete a regular flexibility routine of stretches.

Rehabilitate well – If you have any injuries and are unsure if you are doing more harm than good, make an appointment to see a health professional such as a Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist to ensure you don’t have any strength or mobility deficits that will put you at risk of re-injury or future injury.

Cross train – Mix up your fitness routine (even top athletes mix it up). Try swimming, biking, tennis, or some other activity. This helps prevent overuse injuries that more commonly occur when you do the same type of exercise over and over again.

Be shoe smart – Wear proper-fitting socks and shoes with good support. The best indicator of a shoe wearing out, or poor footwear choice, is comfort. If your feet become sore or you start experiencing prolonged periods of pain during and after a run, then the shoe is probably not right for you or is past its used by date and you should replace your shoes. Don’t get too complicated with design– go for comfort.

Run wisely – Run on a flat, smooth surface and avoid steep hills until your body gets used to the running. Once you have been running for some time, try to vary the terrain and training locations, but avoid doing this to quickly.

Be safe – Run during the day in well-lit areas, or use a light so that you can see the surface and avoid obstacles.