Running Injuries: Etiology, Treatment, and Prevention
Written by: Marcia D’Argenio PT, DPT
Running is one of the world’s most popular forms of exercise. Upwards of 40 million people run regularly and more than 10 million people run at least 100 days per year in the US. Although running is an effective way to achieve many health benefits, it is associated with a high risk of injury. Every year, up to 50% of all runners report an injury due to overuse. Read on for more information on how these injuries occur, as well as how to treat and prevent them from derailing you running goals.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) is the irritation of the cartilage on the underside of the patella or kneecap. Risk factors include overpronation (excessive inward foot rolling) and weak muscles around the hips and knees. In order to decrease pain, taking extra rest days and reducing your mileage is necessary. Avoid running downhill, which can exacerbate pain. Biking, swimming, and the elliptical may speed up your recovery by strengthening the quads.
A stress fracture is a small crack in a bone that typically affects runners in the hip, shin and even the feet. It’s often due to repetitive motions such as running and jumping. The pain gets worse with activity and improves with rest. Rest is important, as continued stress on the bone can lead to more serious injury.
If you experience a “clicking” or “catching” feeling and have intermittent pain from a recent hip twist or fall, you could have a cartilage tear. Tears in cartilage of the knee or hip are usually caused by trauma. Stop running and see a sports medicine specialist if the joint has a pain, swelling, and a sudden decreased range of motion, all hallmark signs of a cartilage tear.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
If you experience lateral knee or hip pain and most of your running is done on the road or track, your hip pain could be caused by Iliotibial Band Syndrome, which is irritation of the “ITB” that runs down the outside of the thigh from the hip to the shin. The ITB can be irritated by always running on the same side of the road or the same direction on the track, running too much too soon, tight hip or knee muscles, or wearing unsupportive shoes. Change your route or alternate directions on the track, stretch your hamstrings and ITB, and replace your shoes to treat and prevent progression of this all too common injury.
Prevent Injuries Before they Occur
So how can one prevent these common running injuries from sidelining them? Stretching plays a useful role in the management of common running injuries. In a study of 900 military recruits, those who stretched regularly experienced lower rates of low back and soft tissue pain.
As far as “warming up” is concerned, there is insufficient quality research to determine whether warming up reduces injury rates in runners.
Although debate continues regarding the role footwear plays in runners, it is important to wear a shoe best suited to the runner’s foot type in order to prevent injury. Common types of shoes are those with cushioning for runners with high arches, neutral shoes for those with an adequate arch, and shoes for those with a low arch (over-pronators) that are designed to minimize foot motion.
Additionally, optimal nutrition does enhance performance and recovery. It is important to consume adequate calories, carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
Lastly, runners should drink before, during, and after exercise as water loss of as little as 2 percent body mass can decrease performance. Weigh yourself before and after a run and drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during exercise.
Don’t let your injuries go without taking proper care of them. When in serious pain, it is important to see a professional. The Physical Therapy team at Monmouth Pain & Rehabilitation can work with you to get you back into your running routine if something is stopping you. Call 732-345-1377 or fill out the form on this page to make an appointment.