If you’re a newbie runner, you’re probably still learning how to pace yourself, getting used to your running shoes and formulating a personalised warm-up. But there’s a significant risk of injury when you start out because your body isn’t necessarily used to rigorous exercise.
Running injuries are commonly caused by structural imbalances, such as having one leg shorter than the other, muscle weakness or training too hard at a pace your body isn’t ready to handle. While it’s completely normal to experience aches as your muscles get used to the movements, you shouldn’t experience extreme pain that alters the way you move.
Here’s the lowdown of common running injuries so you know when to seek help to prevent severe damage:
Minor Running Injuries
Muscle strains: These are small tears caused by overstretching. A pulled muscle usually occurs as a result of overuse, improper use or fatigue. Strains are most common in the shoulder, neck, hamstring and lower back and cause swelling, bruising or redness. Treatment includes rest, ice, compression and elevation.
Blisters: While not serious, blisters can cause discomfort when running and are caused by friction between your socks and shoes. They’re often the result of breaking in new shoes or the indication that you need a better pair. Try wearing new shoes gradually with socks that have a double layer. Cover the blister with a dry, sterile dressing and apply cream to the affected area when appropriate.
Shin splints: This pain is felt on the front or inside of the lower leg along the tibia aka the shin. It’s a common injury and occurs because your muscles aren’t strong enough to take the pressure off your bone, your foot is rolling inward, or your strides are too long. Like most muscle treatments, you need rest, ice, compression and elevation. Anti-inflammatories will also help reduce swelling and tenderness.
Types of Injuries to be Aware of
Runner’s Knee: This is a broad term used to describe knee pain – almost like a dull toothache under your kneecap – when you go up and down stairs, walk or sit with your knee bent for a long time. It could mean the cartilage in your knee cap has worn down or that your knee is out of alignment.
Poor posture and ill-fitting shoes are the most common causes of runner’s knee. Immediate treatments include plenty of rest and pain relievers, as well as physiotherapy to strengthen muscles and improve posture. In severe cases surgery may be required.
Achilles Tendonitis: Under too much stress your Achilles tendon tightens and becomes irritated. Overtraining, speedwork, inflexible running shoes and improper stretching are common causes. Any pain should raise a red flag, and you should stop running immediately. Apply ice to reduce inflammation and see a doctor right away.
Stress fractures: This is a hairline fracture in a bone. Running places an incredible amount of weight on your feet and sometimes this puts strain on your bones. This injury causes a sharp, burning pain and might be painful to touch. The pain worsens as you run and needs investigating. You will need an MRI or x-ray to determine how severe the fracture is. Treatments include a cast, boot, brace or crutches depending on the severity.
Stop When You Feel Pain
Knowing when to stop and when to push through is critical to avoiding injury. You should immediately stop if something hurts so badly that you can’t run on it. Any throbbing, sharp, dull or piercing pain shouldn’t be messed with. If you feel an ache during a run, it’s a good idea to stop and stretch it out, but if the painful sensation persists, then it’s better to call it quits.
Warming Up Properly
Inadequate warm-ups can cause common running injuries. Warming up mobilises your body for exercise by increasing its heart rate and encouraging blood flow to the muscles. Your warm-up routine should include dynamic stretches that activate your calves, shoulders, hamstrings, groin and quads. To maximise performance and reduce injury, it’s important to warm up for at least 10-20 minutes before running.
In addition to running, you should also do strength and cross-training to develop core strength – swimming, biking or tennis are good options. This helps prevent overuse injuries caused by repeating the same exercises over and over again.
Aches and Pains vs. Injury
Sometimes it’s tricky to distinguish between a normal pain as your muscles adjust to running and serious injury. Pain is symmetrical – felt on both sides of the body – and won’t be felt when you’re immobile. It expands over large areas and can’t be pinpointed i.e. a shoulder ache or side pains. Usually, aches subside after 48 hours.
Injury pain will last longer than 3 days and is asymmetrical – only felt on one side, for example, the foot, knee or leg. It will affect your running gait, can cause limping and might hurt even when you’re still. Unlike an ache, there’s a small focus point of pain that hurts when pressed.
There are two types of common running injuries; acute or chronic. Chronic injuries occur subtly over time and are the result of repetitive micro-trauma to the joints, muscles, tendons and bones. Typical examples include shin splints, runner’s knee and tendonitis.
Acute injuries are the result of a single traumatic event. Examples include hamstring muscle strain and ankle sprains. These injuries need immediate treatment to minimise swelling and inflammation.
Diagnosing Injury Early
Slight aches and pains are normal, especially if you’re a newbie runner because your body is being pushed out of its comfort zone. It’s important to know when pain is a symptom of your body growing stronger or it if signals serious running injury.
The quickest way to determine injury is to check in regularly with your body and refocus. During your run, mentally scan your body and tune into its sensations. For example, if you have a stitch, take break for a second to breathe and get more oxygen to your muscles. However, if you’re experiencing intense pain on every stride, then you need to stop.
Another trick is to divert attention and think about something else like what you’re planning to do on the weekend. If the pain interrupts your thoughts, then you must seek professional care.
When we speak about having a good technique, it applies to the way you warm up and run. Wear proper-fitting socks and shoes with good support. Never train with shoes whose soles are thin or angled and use orthotic shoe inserts if need be.
Run on flat, smooth terrain until your body is strong enough to tackle more challenging routes. Make sure you practice a well-rounded warm-up that activates all key muscle groups. With any exercise, you should aim for efficiency i.e. emit the minimum amount of energy to achieve maximum performance.
It’s a good idea to have a gait analysis done to ensure you’re wearing the right shoes for your foot strike. You’ll be required to run on a treadmill or outside so a professional can analyse how your foot lands when you run Whether you roll inwards or outwards will determine if you need neutral, stability or motion control shoes.
Importance of Cooling Down and Stretching
A cool down after your run allows your body to return to its pre-exercise heart rate and blood pressure. Stretching muscle groups used to run helps return them to their regular length, delays soreness and assists your body with its natural repair process. Cool downs include static stretching, low-intensity cardio and flexibility exercises.
To find out more about injury treatment and prevention, you can download our eBook, Sports Injuries Treatment and Recovery Guide or get trusted advice from specialists like the ones at Wimbledon’s Running Injury Clinic.
If you think you may have a running injury and need advice and specialist treatment, then contact us today, and we’ll put together a clear strategy for treatment and recovery so that you can be back to your best as soon as possible.
Call us on:0208 944 0665 or email us at:[email protected]