Deanna Roberts, MS ATC
Department of Orthopaedics
So you’ve been training hard for an upcoming race and you’re starting to feel an aching pain in your knee. Or maybe you’re a new runner who has been increasing your mileage at the expense of a sharp pain in both your shins. Running injuries are a common part of the sport, and unfortunately, up to 82% of runners will experience one at some point in their training. Given this alarming rate of injuries, awareness of such injuries can be important in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
The knee is arguably the most common site of injury with patellofemoral pain syndrome, AKA “runner’s knee”, affecting around 40% of runners. This is characterized by pain around and under the kneecap. Other common injuries include medial tibial stress syndrome, AKA “shin splints” which is an inflammation of the muscles and tendons of the lower leg characterized by a sharp pain, usually on the inside of the shins, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and IT band syndrome, which is pain on the outside of the knee that is caused by repetitive rubbing of the IT band against the outside of the knee.
Sometimes risk factors have a clear link with a particular injury, and sometimes there is a less clear link. Risk factors for which there is clear association with injury include:
1. Increasing your mileage. Injury is more common when running over 20 and then 40 miles per week.
2. Recent increase in training intensity
3. Being new to running
Some risk factors which have a more loose association with injury may include:
1. Changing your footwear or wearing improper footwear
2. Running on harder surfaces
3. Poor habits of warming up prior to running and stretching soft tissues
4. Muscle imbalance and compensatory patterns
When dealing with an injury, it is best to listen to your body. Be sure to schedule rest days during your training, and take a few days off if your pain is worsening. If you are dealing with an injury that requires a few weeks of rest, pencil in some cross training days to maintain your cardiovascular conditioning.
Pay attention to your training plan. If you notice a flare up in pain when running on the road, stick to a surface with more give like a turf field or soft track. Run on the side of the road that feels more comfortable and stick to flat courses if running up and down hills exacerbates your pain. When returning from a rest period, increase your training volume by 10% intervals to avoid overtraining and re-injury.
Can I run through an injury?
Dr. Bob Wilder’s Rules for Runners can quickly assess whether you should continue through pain.
1. On a 10-point scale, pain during the run should be no greater than 0-3.
2. Pain should not be severe to the point where you limp during or following the run.
3. The long run should not be more than half the regular weekly volume.
Make sure to warm up before your run with dynamic stretching exercises that warm up your muscles and increase your heart rate. Include a cool down with gentle stretching exercises that focus on the main muscle groups worked during your run.
Running footwear has been a hot topic in recent years including minimalist shoes and barefoot running. Every foot is unique and every running style is different therefore a visit to a running store where a professional can assess your feet and help you decide on the best running shoe for you is well worth it. Interestingly, studies have shown that when runners wear more expensive shoes promising more cushion or support, they suffer more injuries than runners who opt to wear cheaper footwear. There are no studies that show that running shoes actually prevent injury. Remember that the most important factor in finding a shoe that fits is to make sure it is comfortable when running, not just when placing it on your foot at the store.
If an injury continues to linger or worsen, see a sports medicine physician for further evaluation. He or she can provide you with a proper diagnosis and appropriate rehabilitation plan to get you back on the roads!
Running is a great form of exercise to engage in, whether it be in sport, with a running group, or participating in a color run with friends. These days, the possibilities are endless and so are the opportunities! With the proper training, equipment and rest, you too can have fun and be pain free during your run!