Steven M. Erickson, MD, FACP, is board certified in both internal medicine and sports medicine. He serves as medical director of the Banner Concussion Center, which operates the Banner Health Clinic specializing in sports medicine. His office can be reached at (602) 839-7285.
Question: Running injuries occur in many sports and recreational activities. What are some of the most common injuries runners face and how can they be prevented?
Answer: Running injuries can occur in virtually any sport or activity that includes running, not just those centered on running long distances. While there are a multitude of injuries associated with running, the vast majority result from chronic over-conditioning or overuse of the legs. Tendon injuries and stress fractures top the list of running-related injuries.
The biomechanics of running require a person to essentially jump from one foot to another. The downward force of each stride causes the legs to absorb two to three times a person’s body weight every time their foot hits the ground. The body needs to repair and regenerate after such repetitive loading of the leg muscles and tendons. But, when a person does not allow for adequate recovery time and outstrips his or her body’s ability to repair the underlying damage caused by running, injury can occur.
Stress fractures, which are tiny cracks that develop in the bones of feet, ankles and legs as a result of overuse, are among the most common running injuries. Runners also face a variety injuries related to the breakdown of tendons and ligaments, including conditions like:
- Patellar tendinosis – injury to the tendon connecting the kneecap and shinbone;
- Illiotibial band syndrome – tightening or damage of the ligament that extends from the hip to below the lateral aspect of the knee;
- Medial tibial stress syndrome, also known as shin splints – pain and soreness along the front and inner portions of the lower leg; and
- Achilles tendiniosis – localized pain near the back of the heel.
Preventing running injuries is best achieved by giving the body enough time to heal and regenerate between workouts. Being consistent in how much and how often you run, gradually increasing distance by no more than 10 percent each week, proper stretching, and wearing appropriate footwear that is replaced every 250 to 500 miles can go a long toward preventing running injuries.
Where a person runs also plays a role in the risk of injury. Running on grass, along canal banks or on other natural surfaces lessens the impact of running as the ground absorbs some of the force. In contrast, running on concrete or asphalt puts increased stress on the tendons, ligaments and bones. Running on concrete is not a guarantee that injury will occur, but it is wise to give your body time to adjust to the hard surface. In time, your tendons will adapt and become stronger, which will lessen the likelihood of injury.
Pain that persists, worsens and/or affects one’s ability to train could be signaling a more serious issue. The health section of the Runner’s World website, www.RunnersWorld.com, is a good resource for information about running, injury prevention and warning signs. You can also find a wealth of trusted health information related to running and other sports medicine topics on the Banner Health website at www.BannerHealth.com.