9 Common Running Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Achilles injury on running outdoors. Women holding Achilles tendon by hands close-up and suffering with pain. Ankle twist sprain accident in sport exercise running jogging.

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If a running injury has you sidelined on the couch instead of out logging miles, you’re not alone. An estimated 50% of regular runners suffer an injury each year. The cause of injury is sometimes due to trauma, such as a fall or sprained ankle, but the most common culprit that causes running injuries is overuse.

According to a 2015 study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, repetitive stress causes more than 80% of running injuries. Though these injuries are often mild and can be resolved with a visit to a healthcare provider or by making training modifications, some are more severe, leaving you sidelined (and frustrated) for weeks or months.

Considering one in three regular runners will sustain an injury at some point in their life, it’s unlikely that you will be able to prevent injuries entirely. Fortunately, there are certain steps you can take to prevent running overuse injuries or reduce their severity should they occur. Keep reading to discover which injuries runners most commonly experience and what you can do to avoid them.

Shin Splints

Shin splints (also called medial tibial stress syndrome) are a type of running injury commonly caused by overuse and is characterized by pain and tenderness along the tibia (the large bone in your lower leg). Beginner runners are more likely to develop shin splints since their leg muscles aren’t as developed or accustomed to the stress that’s placed on them while running. However, shin splints can also afflict novice and experienced runners.

“There are a few reasons runners get shin splints,” says Melissa Kendter, ACE-certified trainer and running coach with EvolveYou. “One reason is when mileage or intensity is increased dramatically, the body simply doesn’t have time to adapt to the greater training load and therefore will let you know through shin splints. The next problem is failing to change shoes when necessary. Sometimes people wear their shoes well beyond their life cycle, which can lead to problems.”

Prevention and Treatment

Kendter says one of the best ways to prevent shin splints is to increase your running cadence (also called your step rate). This subtle tweak to your running reduces stride length, thereby minimizing the impact on your tibia. Also, ensure you wear proper running shoes that offer adequate support to reduce the impact on your legs and minimize your chances of developing shin splints.

The best thing you can do if you're suffering from shin splints is to allow for adequate healing time. If you continue to run without allowing your legs to heal, shin splints can progress into stress fractures. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends resting for 7 to 10 days minimum for proper recovery. Treatment options for shin splints include ice massages, ultrasound therapy, wearing compression stockings, leg strengthening exercises, and stretching.

Sprained Ankle

Ankle sprains are the most common lower limb injury in athletes and account for 16 to 40% of all sports-related injuries. This injury occurs when one or more ligaments on the outer side of the ankle are either stretched, partially torn, or (worst-case scenario) completely torn.

“The most common cause of sprained ankles is turning the ankle while running or walking" says Kristen Hislop, a certified running coach, personal trainer, and owner of Hislop Coaching. "Sometimes this is minor and you may turn your ankle, shake it off, and continue your run. Other sprains are more severe and will cause pain and swelling after the incident.”

Prevention and Treatment

To lessen your odds of spraining your ankle while running, do exercises that strengthen the muscles and ligaments around your ankle and increase your flexibility, balance, and coordination. For example, you can do ankle circles, ankle alphabet (writing out the alphabet with your ankle), calf raises, shin raises, and single-leg balance exercises.

If you do roll your ankle and sustain a sprain, address the issue right away by compressing the ankle, wrapping it with a bandage, and icing the injury to keep swelling down. Be sure to rest for at least a few days or however long it takes until your ankle feels strong enough to run again.

Pulled Muscle

Most people have experienced a pulled muscle at some point in their life, and runners are no exception. Hamstring muscle injuries are among the most common injuries in athletes and usually occur while running. Also, hamstring strains account for 12 to 16% of all athletic injuries, with a reinjury rate as high as 22 to 34%. Other muscles often affected by this type of injury are the quadriceps, calf, and groin.

“A pulled muscle occurs when a muscle is forced to work too hard or overloaded due to abnormal mechanics,” explains Kendter. “They can occur from running on fatigued or tight legs, increasing the intensity of your run through sprinting, increasing distance drastically or running uphill without allowing your body to adapt properly first.”

Prevention and Treatment

Most muscle strain injuries can be resolved with adequate rest and strength training. A proper warm-up before running also can prevent you from pulling a muscle. Warm-ups increase muscle temperature and blood flow, which contributes to improved exercise performance and reduced risk of injuries to muscles and tendons.

“Weaker muscles are more susceptible to muscle pulls than stronger ones," Kendter explains. "Adopting a strength training routine will make your muscles stronger and resistant to pulls."

IT Band Syndrome

Another common overuse injury many runners experience is IT band syndrome. Your IT (iliotibial) band is a thick band of tissue that runs outside your thigh, extending from your hips to the top of your shins.

When you bend and extend your leg repeatedly, such as while running, your IT band moves over your thighbone. Over time, this movement can place excessive strain on your IT band and lead to pain in the hips or knees.

“IT band syndrome tends to be caused by weak gluteus (buttock) muscles," explains Hislop. "This type of injury is prevalent in women because their wider hips stress the IT band, irritating inflamed tissue."

Prevention and Treatment

If you are suffering from knee or hip pain related to IT band syndrome, wrap an ice pack in a towel and ice the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. You can also relieve pain and tightness by using a foam roller along the front and back of your thighs and on your outer hips. Do this daily to keep the muscles your IT band attaches to lengthened and to reduce excessive pulling on your hips and knees.

As for preventing IT band syndrome, avoid running on uneven surfaces, wear appropriate running shoes, and do exercises that strengthen your glutes, core, and hips to take the strain off your IT bands.

Runner's Knee

Runner's knee is a dull, aching pain located at the front of the knee. Some runners may experience pain and a rubbing, grinding, or clicking sound at their kneecap. Because various factors can cause knee pain, talk to a physiotherapist or sports medicine physician to have it diagnosed and rule out other possible conditions.

“A sudden increase in the volume or intensity of training, inadequate recovery time, weak or tight quad muscles, thigh muscles, or hip muscles, can all lead to runner’s knee,” says Kendter. “When the muscles surrounding your knee are weak or tight this can cause the knee joint to bear a larger stress burden with running. Also, an ankle, hip, or knee injury can change the knee’s biomechanics, eventually leading to runner’s knee symptoms.”

Prevention and Treatment

Like most other running-related injuries, adopting a strength training routine to complement your running can help prevent and treat runner’s knee. Some excellent knee exercises for runners include bodyweight squats, single-leg squats, lunges, knee bends, and straight leg raises.

Kendter advises avoiding abrupt increases to your running volume and intensity and ramping them up gradually. Wearing proper running shoes will help with shock absorption and reduce knee impact. Also, focusing on running cadence with a high turnover rate will minimize ground contact time.

Stress Fracture

Another overuse injury that’s common among regular runners is a stress fracture. These are tiny hairline cracks that form in load-bearing bones (usually in your leg or foot) that are caused by repetitive force.

This injury often occurs when running mileage is increased too quickly and your bones aren’t ready for the high impact of running regularly. That’s why it’s essential to gradually build up your running volume to allow your bone strength and density to increase.

"Bone density conditions put certain people at greater risk for stress fractures, as well as insufficient nutrition," says Kendter. "To help prevent stress fractures, eat a healthy diet with lots of nutrients to keep your body and muscles happy, including calcium and vitamin D."

Prevention and Treatment

If you suspect you have a stress fracture, see a healthcare provider to have it diagnosed. The best thing you can do is rest and avoid running or any high-impact activity on the affected bone. Continuing to run with a stress fracture can affect your running form and lead to further injury.

Plus, you can prevent stress fractures by eating a diet high in calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients are essential for bone health, and getting enough of them from whole foods and supplementation can increase your bone density naturally.

Plantar Fasciitis

You’ve likely heard of plantar fasciitis as a common condition among runners. Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is tissue in your foot used during movement, such as walking or running.

“Several culprits can cause plantar fasciitis, such as a drastic increase in mileage, specific foot structures (e.g., high arches or flat feet), tight calf muscles, improper footwear, and strength imbalances,” explains Kendter.

Prevention and Treatment

You can prevent plantar fasciitis from developing by gradually increasing your mileage by approximately 10% a week, says Kendter. In addition, she adds that reducing your stride length by increasing your running cadence will minimize the impact on your feet and help prevent injury.

And if you have plantar fasciitis, you can address the issue by doing strength-building exercises for your feet, heels, and legs by doing barefoot exercises. Additionally, you can try massaging the bottom of your foot using a lacrosse ball and roll out your calves with a foam roller. These practices will enhance blood flow to the affected area and loosen tight calf muscles, which will help relieve pain caused by plantar fasciitis.

Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis is characterized by pain, inflammation, and swelling of the thick tendon that connects your calf muscles to your heel. It’s caused by tight calf muscles that result from an increase in running duration and intensity without proper recovery.

“Symptoms of achilles tendonitis present as pain on the bottom of the foot near or on the heel," says Hislop. "To some, it may be a stabbing sensation, or it can feel like a bruise. However, most people feel it when they first get out of bed in the morning."

Prevention and Treatment

Strength and stretching exercises are best when addressing your achilles tendonitis symptoms. Calf-strengthening exercises can allow your muscles to absorb more force and prevent injury. Foam rolling your calves will loosen them and increase ankle mobility. Other strategies are to slowly increase your running volume, wear supportive footwear, and rest if you feel pain.

Morton's Neuroma

This condition involves aggravation or damage to the interdigital nerve between your toe bones, which is often caused by trauma to the foot (such as repetitive foot striking while running) or wearing narrow footwear that puts constant pressure on your feet.

The most common location of nerve inflammation is between your second and third toes, but it can extend to the fourth toe as well. This often causes numbness, pain, or tingling in the foot or toes while running.

Prevention and Treatment

To prevent and treat irritation of your interdigital nerve, Kendter advises wearing properly fitting running shoes with a wide toe box.

"Adequate shoe width is essential to prevent side-to-side compression of the forefoot," she says. "To relieve pressure, you can also add a metatarsal pad under the foot area.”

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Whether or not you should see a healthcare provider for your running injury depends on various factors, such as pain severity and its impact on your daily life. That said, if you experience severe bone or joint pain, pain that radiates to other areas of your body, inability to move the injured body part, significant swelling, or numbness and tingling in the affected area, you need to be seen by a medical professional.

“If the pain alters your gait or makes you change your daily behavior, then you need to see a specialist,” Hislop recommends. “It’s important to think about your body as an interconnected organism. Physical therapist specialists are trained to look at the full body and will get you back to moving well. This is important to ward off future injuries.”

A Word From Verywell

Running regularly is an incredible way to improve fitness, stay active, promote longevity, strengthen bones, and enhance cardiovascular health. However, doing too much too soon, not allowing for sufficient recovery, and not warming up can lead to several overuse injuries, ranging from knee pain to pulled muscles and foot issues.

Take preventive measures to avoid sustaining these common running injuries, and you’ll ensure you can run consistently and without injury for years to come. Don’t hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider before increasing your running volume and intensity or if you suspect you have an overuse injury caused by running.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you tell if a running injury is serious?

    If you experience a sudden, sharp pain when running, pain that persists days after a run, swelling of the joints, difficulty walking, or inability to bear weight on your limbs, it’s time to see a healthcare provider. Also, if you experience lightheadedness, chest pain, trouble breathing, or a rapid heart rate while running, seek medical attention immediately.

  • What is the most common overuse injury?

    For both men and women, the most common overuse injury is runner’s knee. According to a 2019 study published in the Annals of Translational Medicine, the knee is the most common area for running injuries because your knee joint is affected by a number of injury types, including runner’s knee and IT band syndrome.

  • How frequently do runners experience injuries?

    More than 40 million Americans report running regularly, with over half experiencing some type of injury annually. Occasionally, running injuries are caused by trauma, such as a fall, but the majority of the time, they’re due to overuse and not allowing for proper recovery.

    But don’t let this deter you from becoming a regular runner. Those who are physically inactive are far more likely to get injured doing everyday tasks. The better shape you’re in when an injury occurs, the more quickly you’ll recover.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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