Summary: There are some areas of the body that are particularly vulnerable to injury for runners. Read on for a guide.
Running injuries have a funny way of making you realize how important the little things are. The first time I got a bad ankle sprain I was on my way down from a hill run on fairly uneven ground. It was a beautiful day for a run – blue skies and a light breeze on the hill top to take the edge off the sun’s heat.
Near the bottom of the descent I started picking up speed, thinking about how I could extend the run by taking a detour along a nearby woodland trail. Those thoughts crashed moments later when I stepped on a tuft of grass and my foot folded underneath my leg as my weight went down on it. I’m sure the sound of my ankle wrenching was audible.
I pulled up almost immediately, trotting to a stop at the bottom of the hill – then got that feeling that isn’t pain exactly but definitely made me aware that I was hurt. I couldn’t put weight on my foot and had to hobble home as my trainer tightened over a swelling ankle.
And that was me – couldn’t run for the best part of a month. Not even for a bus, or to get across the road. And it was all because a couple of little ligaments in my ankle had been twisted. It made me realize how much my mobility depended on these little connections – and it made me determined to avoid further injuries.
Since then I’ve tried to take steps to avoid running injuries and although I’ve learned they are sometimes impossible to avoid, there are some steps you can take to prevent them. And if you do get injured there are ways to make sure you’re back on your feet in no time. Here I’m going to focus on the knees, ankles and feet – three of the more injury-prone areas of a runner’s body.
A word on prevention
Before we look at the individual injuries it’s worth considering some general prevention issues – here are some of the most important:
- Get suitable footwear: This is the most important part of your running wardrobe so don’t skimp. Go to a specialist shop for a fitting and take their recommendations on board, buying shoes that are comfortable and offer you appropriate levels of support.
- Don’t over-train: If you’re building up to a specific goal, such as a marathon, it can be tempting to put the head down and go hell-for-leather in your training. In short, don’t. You run the risk of overdoing it, injuring yourself, falling behind in your schedule and by doing so losing time, fitness and motivation.
- Schedule in rest days: Building stamina will put a strain on your body and you need rest to repair and grow stronger. Work out a rolling schedule that allows for days off and lighter runs in addition to the challenging efforts. Again, you’ll find this a great help in the long run.
- Don’t ignore niggles: If you feel a bit of running-related pain somewhere in your body don’t just run through it – you’re just storing up problems for later on and risk making the situation worse. Do what you can to give your body the space to heal, whether it’s cutting down on your mileage, buying a support or taking a day or two off.
- Runner’s Knee
The knee injury patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) has become so associated with running that it’s now nicknamed after the activity. The condition comes about when you put extra load on the knee – causing irritation to the underside of the kneecap.
It’s usually not serious – as long as you don’t aggravate it. If you come down with knee pain cut back on your running until the pain subsides and think about doing some exercises to supplement the strength of the muscles around the knee. Swimming and weight training can help with this.
- Shin Splints
This term has become a blanket name covering a number of ailments that strike in the shin area. These different conditions come in varying levels of intensity but they usually share a common cause – a spike in training levels. Often beginner runners who are just starting out suffer shin splints, as do those who have dramatically increased their volume of running.
Ice and ibuprofen can help with any swelling and tenderness but easing off the running is necessary for a proper fix. And when you get back on the trail, take it slowly and try to find softer areas for running, such as dirt trails and grass parks.
- Achilles Tendinitis
Pain just above the heel is the signal of a strain to the Achilles tendon – the thick band of tissue that attaches the muscles of your calf to your ankle bone. Several things can cause this strain, such as having tight calf muscles, but the symptoms are the same – sharp pain and the possibility of swelling.
The Achilles tendon doesn’t get a lot of blood flow so recovery can be slow. Icing and stretching can help to loosen off the tightness and in the long-term you should think about working on your general suppleness and lower-leg strength to avoid further mishaps.
- Sprained Ankle
Ah – my old friend, and one of the most common afflictions for participants of any sport. Sprains usually occur when the two major ligaments in your ankle are violently overstretched – as they were when my foot bent inwards on my run.
Follow the RICE method as soon as you suffer the injury to minimize the extent of your injury and your recovery time: Rest (take the strain off your ankle for a while), Ice (crush and wrap in a damp tea towel), Compression (apply a bandage or tubigrip to your ankle), Elevate (lay back and get that ankle up in the air – it will cut down on internal bleeding in the ankle).
- Heel Pain
When you’re running, the force of your body weight striking the ground is focused in the foot so it’s no surprise the area is prone to pick up injuries. The heel is one of the most common focal spots for pain and if you have this problem then you’re probably suffering from Plantar Fasciitis. This pain can come and go during a run but when it’s there you’ll certainly know about it.
Orthotics and specially designed shoes offer short-term fixes to the problem but if you want to prevent recurrence in the future then work on stretching out this part of your body. And again, think about building the muscles of and around the foot. It’ll go a long way towards taking the strain off trouble-spots like the heel.
Have you suffered any running injuries? How did you bounce back? Tell us about it in the comments section below.