Running is one of the most accessible forms of exercise to stay fit and healthy at any age. The world is truly your oyster with a pair of trainers and the time to get some miles under your feet. From taking part in one of the hundreds of weekly park runs, track sprinting or the grind of an ultra-marathon – there is a style and distance of running that can suit just about anyone.
Although enjoyable at any age, the repetitive nature and impact of running can inevitably lead to one of many common injuries experienced by the running community. While some injuries can be fairly mild, running can, in some cases, lead to more serious and long-term problems that can recur without proper diagnosis and treatment.
What are the more common injuries experienced by runners and are there any preventative steps to stop a niggle becoming a more serious issue? We get the insight of a chiropractor in Bury St Edmunds.
As with many running injuries, the term runner’s knee is a little misleading as it isn’t a condition related only to running. It’s also not a term for one specific injury as it’s used broadly to describe a range of knee pain – often referred to as patellofemoral pain syndrome.
There are a range of reasons why a person might develop pain in the knee area. Runner’s knee can be brought on through overuse, a direct blow to the knee area, foot problems (such as fallen arches) or musculoskeletal issues related to misalignment. Strong thigh muscles can also play a part in developing runner’s knee as they help to keep the kneecap in the right position. Keeping your quads strong certainly helps with supporting your kneecap to stay in the right place.
Runner’s knee can be painful and quite limiting when it comes to continuing with training. Whilst you may experience some swelling around the knee, generally it presents with pain in front or behind your kneecap and when bending or moving the knee. Going downstairs or downhill can be difficult without experiencing pain so is very much an injury that can be restrictive across daily life as well as during exercise.
Rest is often the best form of recovery for runner’s knee but there are other options to consider. Stretching or strengthening exercises can help regain mobility. It’s also worth spending some time focused specifically on strengthening work for your thigh muscles to improve your quads and the support for your kneecaps. Initial assessment from a musculoskeletal specialist such as a chiropractor can help to identify where problems might occur and possible treatment options to limit pain or recovery options in the future.
As with runner’s knee, shin splints can be particularly limiting when it comes to continuing with training due to the pain and discomfort they can cause. Shin splints refer to pain that can occur across the front or inside of the lower leg and is often referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome. The pain can come on quickly but can build and recur depending on treatment and recovery when pain starts to occur.
Shin splints are often linked to making changes to a workout routine. Runners often experience shin splints during training programmes for longer runs meaning that as mileage increases, the likelihood of shin splits is higher. Ensuring you programme regular rest days, particularly following longer running sessions can help keep shin splints at bay. Strengthening exercises can also help but by slowing running pace and reducing weekly mileage, it’s possible to continue running without derailing a training plan too heavily.
The pain of shin splints can often be hard to distinguish from a stress fracture given the location and type of pain. To rule out a stress fracture, particularly if the pain is more acutely located on the shin bone, an X-ray is advised.
A stress fracture relates to severe bruising or a small crack in a bone and in runners, is seen largely in the legs and feet. The causes of stress fractures are related to overuse as a muscle becomes fatigued and unable to absorb additional shock during an activity. Eventually, the muscle transfers the additional load onto the bone which can lead to a small crack. Stress fractures are particularly common in the foot but can occur almost anywhere in the ankle and leg for runners. There are signs that indicate a stress fracture could occur as often the bone will swell and present with pain just prior to a crack. In this case, prioritise rest and contact a health professional for an assessment before a more serious injury can occur.
Stress fractures often occur over time so following a training programme that supports rest and recovery periods in between periods of exercise can help to limit exposure to stress fractures. This is particularly important when increasing intensity or mileage as muscles and bones need time to get used to changes that might dramatically increase load.
Now more formally known as Achilles tendinopathy, tendinitis relates to an overuse of the Achilles tendon which connects the calf muscles to the rear of your leg and your heel bone. Much like stress fractures and shin splints, Achilles tendinitis occurs largely through overuse when distance or intensity of runs increases. The main symptoms are mild pain in the back of the leg. Following exercise, stair climbing or jumping this can become a more moderate to severe pain depending on the type of activity.
The Achilles tendon often weakens with age so tendinitis can be more common in older runners. Warding off tendinitis as we age is often a simple case of engaging in more frequent but moderate exercise rather than irregular, intense activity. Although a relatively painful but simple injury from a recovery point of view, often just requiring rest and recovery, there can be complications to consider. If the pain is very intense, it may indicate a tear in the Achilles tendon and urgent medical attention is required.
A common but dreaded runner’s injury, plantar fasciitis can have a major impact on running and training progress if left unchecked. The plantar fascia is the thick band of tissue at the base of the foot which extends from the toes to the heel. It is inflammation or small tears in the plantar fascia that can cause pain in the heel of the foot – often leading to severe pain if untreated. Plantar fasciitis can be more painful first thing in the morning.
There are existing issues that can make a person more prone to plantar fasciitis, such as high arches or tighter calf muscles but overuse leading to inflammation can also be a cause. Treatment options include rest and recovery and specific stretches that help to target tight or stiff calf muscles. Wearing training shoes which help to support the plantar fascia, particular for runners who are prone to over pronation or gait issues. Seeking a proper assessment from a health professional to understand how supportive shoes can help to reduce the incidence of plantar fasciitis occurring will also help to manage a predisposition to developing the condition. By investing in the proper running equipment and supportive shoes, exposure to plantar fasciitis can be significantly reduced.