Running Smart: Recognize the Top Five Common Running Injuries

March 25, 2015

Lisa Reinke, a physical therapist with Bellin Health Sports Medicine, writes about the causes, symptoms and treatment of five common running injuries:

My first race was the Bellin Run, one week after graduating high school. After years of playing softball and tennis, I realized I wasn’t going to have an instant team or partner to play on a regular basis, so I took up a suggestion to try running the Bellin — and I LOVED it.

I took this love of running onto college and through several road races, and my love of running and need to put on my running shoes increased each day. As a new runner, I found myself battling injuries early in my running career, which is very common — research shows that experienced runners are less frequently injured. As I continued to run and became more educated through physical therapy school, I too experienced fewer injuries.

It has been cited in research that 65 percent percent of runners will experience injury each year, and a large percentage of these will be beginning runners. At Bellin Health Sports Medicine, we want you to be knowledgeable about common injuries so you can catch yours early, rehab it and return to the road. Here are the top five:

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (“Runner’s Knee”)

What is runner’s knee?
Patellofemoral pain syndrome (otherwise known as “runner’s knee”) is pain behind the kneecap. 

What causes runner’s knee?
Runner’s knee commonly occurs with overuse when running. The kneecap is attached to a large group of muscles in the thigh called the quadriceps, and it glides through a groove in the end of the thigh bone. With repeated bending and straightening of the knee, you can irritate the inside surface of the kneecap if it does not move correctly in this groove. Pain can occur because of the way your hips, knees, ankles or feet are aligned and/or how they move. 

What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of runner’s knee is pain behind the kneecap. You may have pain when you walk, run or sit for a long period of time. The pain is generally worse when running downhill or going down stairs. Your knee may swell at times. You may feel or hear snapping, popping, or grinding in the knee.

What is the treatment?
Initial treatment of runner’s knee focuses on rest and ice to decrease your pain. 

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

What is IT band syndrome?
Iliotibial band (or IT band) syndrome is an inflammation and pain on the outer side of the knee. The IT band is a layer of connective tissue that starts as part of a muscle in your hip and travels down to the outer side of your knee attaching to your upper shin bone.

What causes IT band syndrome?
IT band syndrome occurs with improper movement at the knee causing stress and inflammation at the outer side of the knee. This most often occurs in running. This condition can result from tight muscles in your hip, pelvis or leg, and/or weakness of your hip muscles affecting your knee position when you run.

What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of IT band syndrome is pain on the outer side of the knee.

What is the treatment?
Initial treatment of IT band syndrome focuses on rest and ice to decrease your pain. 


Plantar Fasciitis

What is plantar fasciitis?
The plantar fascia is a tendon-like tissue located on the bottom of the foot that supports the arch of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is painful inflammation of the bottom of the foot between the ball of the foot and the heel.

What causes plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis occurs in response to an over-stretching or stressing of the tissue. This can be due to increased mileage, increased weight, foot structure, faulty running mechanics and/or changes in workout routine.

What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of plantar fasciitis is heel or arch pain when you walk or run. It is typical for the first couple steps you take in the morning to be very painful with this condition.

What is the treatment?
Initial treatment of plantar fasciitis focuses on rest and ice to decrease your pain. 

Tibial Stress Fracture

What is a stress fracture?
A tibial stress fracture is an overuse injury causing increased stress to a bone. This increase in stress can cause a tiny crack to form in the bone that can lead to a full break of the bone if not treated. Stress fractures are common in the foot and lower leg and typically occur in runners.

What causes a stress fracture?
Stress fractures occur most often as a result of increasing training (miles, time, number of days of the week) or increasing training intensity too quickly.  Poor mechanics, improper footwear, changes in running surface and bone conditions such as osteopenia/osteoporosis can contribute to the cause of a stress fracture.

What are the symptoms?
Pain at the shin bone, or feelings of worsening “shin splints,” is the most common symptom of a tibial stress fracture. This pain is noted during activities and typically improves with rest. The shin bone can become sore to the touch at the site of the stress fracture. Stress fracture symptoms tend to increase with time if the activity causing the pain has not stopped.

What is the treatment?
The most important thing to do when you are experiencing the signs of a stress fracture is to stop the activity causing the pain — if pain occurs when running, stop running right away. The most common treatment is rest from activity; if the stress fracture has progressed too far, the area may be immobilized by wearing a boot. You may be instructed to not bear weight on the affected leg and may use crutches for a period of time. 

Knee Meniscal Injuries

What is a meniscal tear?
The meniscus is a piece of cartilage in the middle of the knee that acts as a shock absorber during weight bearing and guides the movements of the knee. The meniscus is a tough, rubbery tissue. A meniscus tear is a fraying or tearing of this tissue.

What causes a meniscal tear?
A meniscus tear commonly occurs when the knee is forcefully twisted during a weight bearing activity.

What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms include pain in your knee joint, immediate swelling, not being able to fully bend or straighten your knee, or your knee locking or getting stuck in one position.

What is the treatment?
Early treatment would focus on ice applied to the affected area and rest. 

If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, or any symptoms that limit your running or daily activities, take note right away. If your symptoms do not resolve within seven days, consult our running experts to discuss possible changes to your training, or the potential need for a consult with a sports medicine physician or referral for physical therapy.

To all the Bellin Run participants, I wish you joy and health as you begin your training journey to race day! Congratulations on your commitment to your health!

Lisa Reinke is a physical therapist with Bellin Sports Medicine who specializes in the treatment of running-related injuries and gait assessments for the injured runner or walker. Lisa has participated in several road races, bike rides and triathlons. You may contact Lisa with any questions regarding running or walking injuries by email: [email protected].

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