Risk factors for a running injury
There are some things that put you at greater risk of injury.
- Increasing the speed, intensity, or distance of your runs too quickly.
- Muscle imbalance or weakness.
- Improper technique – for example, when running on an uneven surface.
- Having a low running cadence (the number of steps you take per minute). If you take fewer steps, you’re taking larger strides, which increases the impact.
- Running in old or outworn shoes.
- Not enough recovery time.
Some injuries may be caused by more than one risk factor. The most common risk factor, however, is having a previous injury, so preventing a first injury should be a key focus.
Sport injuries, in general, can be divided into four categories.
- Overuse – this means you’re training hard and not giving your body enough time to recover.
- Trauma (falls and collisions).
- Fractures and dislocations.
- Sprains and strains (ligament and muscle injuries).
Most running injuries are due to overuse.
What are the most common running injuries?
The most common running injuries affect the knee, foot and ankle, hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thigh), and tibia (bone in the lower leg).
This is most common cause of outer knee pain in runners. It develops when your iliotibial (IT) band rubs against the lower end of your thigh bone (femur) and becomes inflamed. You’re more likely to get Iliotibial band syndrome if you have weak hip muscles and are over-training.
The main symptom of patellofemoral pain syndrome is a dull, aching pain around and in front of your knee, or behind your kneecap (patella). This pain gets worse after activities that add stress to the kneecap, such as climbing stairs, squatting, or running. Patellofemoral pain syndrome is sometimes called ‘runner’s knee’ because it’s more common in people who run. The exact cause isn’t known but it’s thought that over-training, weak hip muscles, or weak thigh muscles could contribute.
Tendinopathy is a general term that describes a loss of function in a tendon over time. The patellar tendon is in your knee, and it’s thought that repeated stress can lead to patellar tendinopathy. Symptoms of patellar tendinopathy are usually a combination of pain, swelling, and not being able to perform as well as before.
Foot and ankle injuries
If you twist or turn your foot beyond its normal range of movement, you might sprain it. A sprain can stretch or tear the ligaments that support your ankle joint. This can cause your ankle to be painful and swollen. A badly sprained ankle can also prevent you from being mobile and running for several weeks.
An overuse injury to the tendon that runs down the back of your lower leg to your heel. You may get pain, stiffness, and sometimes swelling that makes it hard for you to move freely. Achilles tendinopathy is one of the most common running-related injuries.
The most common cause of persistent heel pain. If you have plantar fasciitis, you might find that the pain is worse after rest, but gets better as you become active. Around one in 10 people who run regularly develop plantar fasciitis.
These are common among runners. You’re more at risk of a hamstring strain if you:
- have poor flexibility of your hamstring muscles
- don’t warm-up before running
- have a previous injury
You will feel pain at the back of your thigh and may have some bruising and swelling.
Chronic hamstring tendinopathy
Hamstring pain can become chronic when a damaged tendon doesn’t heal properly and becomes degenerative. This is when the tendon deteriorates over time and loses function. You may feel pain at the back of your thigh or deep in your buttock. It usually gets worse when you try to run or sit for long periods of time.
Tibia and lower leg injuries
This is the name for pain in your lower leg between your knee and ankle. It’s caused by repetitive impact, especially if you run on hard surfaces such as a road.
Tibial stress fracture
A stress fracture is a small crack in a bone, or severe bruising within a bone. Stress fractures can be caused by overuse and repetitive activity. This overuse means that the bone doesn’t repair properly after it’s placed under increased load. The tibia is a common place for stress fractures in runners.
Your calf is made of three muscles (gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris). If you strain one of these muscles, you might feel pain and tightness in your calf that’s made worse by walking or jogging.