Preventing and Treating Common Running Injuries
Every runner's guide to preventing and treating 10 common pains and sprains.
"Don't run and you'll heal," are the words that every diehard runner dreads hearing.
"Runners don't want to stop running, and the good news is that you can run through most pain without causing permanent damage," says Lewis G. Maharam, MD, medical director of the New York Road Runners Club, the New York City Marathon, NYC Triathlon, the Suzuki Rock 'n' Roll Marathon -- among others. "But," he cautions, "if pain changes your running style, stop and see a sports doctor."
Most common running injuries are due to overuse, overtraining, or a biomechanical flaw in body structure and motion.
Here's how to prevent and treat the 10 most common running injuries so you never get sidelined again:
1. Runner's knee
Runner's knee is a wearing away of the back of the kneecap, causing pain in the knee. This can occur because of decreased strength of middle quadricep muscles, or shoes that do not give proper support when you come off of your forefoot on the inside. What to do? Maharam says the condition is typically treated with a full-length sports orthotic and strengthening exercises directed at the middle quad muscle. Talk to a sports medicine doctor about getting into physical therapy and learning about the best stretches to heal runner's knee.
2. Stress fractures
Stress fractures can be caused by overtraining, a shortage of calcium, or by some basic biomechanical flaw -- either in your running style in or your body structure, says sports podiatrist Stephen Pribut, DPM, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Common stress fractures in runners occur in the tibia (the inner and larger bone of the leg below the knee), the femur (thigh bone) and in the sacrum (triangular bone at the base of the spine) and the metatarsal (toe) bones in the foot.
"The more the miles, the greater the stress," says Maharam. And this is one injury you should not ignore. "Stress fractures are like a hardboiled egg," he explains. "The shell is cracked and next stop is a full-fledged fracture." See a doctor who specializes in treating running injuries, Maharam advises. "We only tell runners to stop when they have a fracture or a stress fracture and then we put them in a pool for water-running because stopping exercise is unacceptable to (most) runners."
3. Iliotibial band syndrome, a.k.a. ITBS
Marked by a sharp, burning knee or hip pain, ITBS is a very common running injury among marathoners. Indeed, it's responsible for as many as 80% of all overuse pains on marathon day. The ITB is a ligament that runs along the outside of the thigh -- from the top of the hip to the outside of the knee. It stabilizes the knee and hip during running, but when it thickens and rubs over the bone, the area can become inflamed or the band itself may become irritated -- causing pain. "ITBS may be caused by running on a banked surface that causes the downhill leg to bend slightly inward and stretches the band, inadequate warm-up or cool-down, running excessive distances, increasing mileage too quickly or certain physical abnormalities," says Pribit.
The best stretch? Place the injured leg behind the good one. If the left side is sore, cross your left leg behind your right one. Then lean away from the injured side toward your right side. There should be a table or chair that you can hold onto for balance. Hold for 7 to 10 seconds and repeat on each side 7 to 10 times, prescribes Pribut. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (some brand names are Motrin and Aleve) can help get the swelling down, he says.
4. Shin splints
The most common type of shin splints happen on the inside of legs. These medial shin splints are a running injury that results from a biomechanical flaw in your foot (which can be made worse by a shoe that doesn't offer enough support) and/or overtraining.
"Your best bet is to switch to a motion control or thicker shoe and a make sure to stretch out your calf muscles" before and after running, says Michael Fredericson, MD, doctor for the Stanford Cross Country and Track Team and an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine. Do this by standing with your rear foot approximately two to three feet away from the wall. Your rear leg should be straight, the front leg bent and your hands touching the wall. Your feet should point ahead with heels on the ground. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times on each leg. Now do the same thing with your rear leg (that was straight) slightly bent at the knee. You should feel this stretch lower down.
5. Plantar fasciitis