Common Running Pain and Injuries

You've got to break down before you can build up
Common running injuries. Yuri_Arcurs / Getty Images

Running is one of the easiest ways to stay fit, but it is also one of the easiest ways to develop an injury. Running aches, pains, and injuries are all too common for those new to running, but even seasoned runners can wind up with injuries to the hips, knees, ankles, and feet. The impact and stress of running can be hard on the muscles and joints, particularly if running is your only sport.

Common Injuries

If you do develop an ache or pain, it is likely to be one of the following.

  • Ankle sprains: This is the most common ankle injury. It occurs when there is a stretching and tearing of ligaments surrounding the ankle joint.
  • Achilles tendonitis: Achilles tendonitis is a chronic injury in runners that occurs primarily from overuse and is felt as pain in the back of the ankle. If this is ignored it may increase your risk of Achilles tendon rupture.
  • Blisters: Runners often develop foot blisters, fluid-filled sacs on the surface of the skin.
  • Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS): This muscle pain, stiffness or soreness occurs 24 to 48 hours after particularly intense exercise or a new running program.
  • Groin pull: A groin (adductor) pull or strain occurs when the muscles of the inner thigh are stretched beyond their limits.
  • Heel spur: A heel spur is a growth of bone at the bottom of the heel where muscles and other soft tissue attached.
  • Hamstring pull, tear, or strain: Hamstring injuries are common among runners and can range from minor strains to total rupture of the muscle at the back of the thigh.
  • Iliotibial band syndrome: IT band friction syndrome often results in knee pain that is generally felt on the outside (lateral) aspect of the knee or lower.
  • Muscle cramps: A cramp is a sudden, intense pain caused by a muscle involuntary and forcibly contracting muscle that does not relax. It is similar to, but not the same as, a side stitch.
  • Overtraining syndrome: Overtraining syndrome frequently occurs in athletes who are training for competition or a specific event and train beyond the body's ability to recover.
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome: This term usually refers to pain under and around the kneecap It is also called "runner's knee."
  • Piriformis syndrome: If the piriformis muscle becomes tight or cramps it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause gluteal (or buttock) pain or sciatica.
  • Plantar fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of pain on the bottom of the heel and usually defined by pain during the first steps of the morning
  • Pulled or strained calf muscle:  Calf strain occurs when part of the muscles of the lower leg (gastrocnemius or soleus) are pulled from the Achilles tendon. It is similar to an Achilles tendon rupture but occurs higher up in the back of the leg.
  • Shin splints: This is a pain that occurs in the front of the lower leg along the tibia (shin bone). Shin splints are considered a cumulative stress injury.
  • Sprains and strains: These are acute injuries that vary in severity but usually result in pain, swelling, bruising, and loss of the ability to move and use the joint.
  • Stress fractures: Stress fractures in the leg are often the result of overuse or repeated impact on a hard surface.
  • Tendinitis and ruptured tendon: Tendinitis is simply inflammation of a tendon. It generally occurs from overuse, but can also occur from a forceful contraction that causes microtears in the muscle fibers. These tears can lead to weakness and inflammation.

Preventing Running Injuries

Regardless of your running experience, the best advice for preventing any injury is to pay careful attention to any warning signs of an injury. Additional tips include:​

  • Wear proper footwear: You need running shoes that are appropriate for your gait and the distance that you run. They also need to be correctly fitted so as not to cause blisters or constrict your feet.
  • Replace shoes as needed: Running shoes need to be replaced every 300 to 500 miles. Not only is there wear on the soles and uppers, they lose their cushioning and support.
  • Warm up properly: Spend a few minutes walking and jogging slowly so your muscles and joints are ready for more effort.
  • Cross train: Running shouldn't be your only form of exercise or you overtrain your running muscles and ignore the rest, making you unbalanced.
  • Stretch after running: Whether stretching reduces the risk of injury is still a matter of debate by researchers. Pre-run stretching has the least evidence of benefit, while post-run stretching or stretching as its own activity may help your flexibility and range of motion.
  • Avoid overtraining: Recovery time is important in getting the full benefit of your workouts, while fatigue can increase your risk of injury.
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