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  • Dr. Norbert Martin, DPT

5 Common Running Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

A young male and a young female who are running side by side

Are you a passionate runner looking to minimize the risks of injuries? Or perhaps you're just starting out on your running journey, eager to embrace a healthier lifestyle and explore the great outdoors. Either way, it's crucial to be aware of the most common injuries that can derail your progress and cause pain and frustration.

Overuse injuries are a constant threat to recreational and competitive runners alike, and the reasons are numerous. From training errors and inadequate surfaces to inappropriate footwear and leg strength deficits, there are many factors that can lead to running injuries.

But fear not! With the right knowledge and approach, you can overcome these challenges and achieve your running goals. In this blog post, we'll delve into the five most prevalent injuries related to running: Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome/ “Runner's Knee”, Patellar Tendinopathy, Tibial Stress Syndrome, Plantar Fasciitis, and Meniscal Injuries. We'll also explore practical tips and strategies to prevent these injuries, so you can stay healthy, motivated, and injury-free.

So, whether you're a seasoned runner or a newbie, buckle up and get ready to explore these 5 common running injuries with us. By the end of this blog post, you'll have a better understanding of the main culprits behind these injuries and a range of practical strategies to prevent them. Whether you're aiming to run your first 5K or aiming to set a new personal record, this knowledge will be invaluable in helping you stay on track and avoid the pitfalls that can derail your progress. Let's dive in and conquer the runner's plight together!

1. What is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome/ “Runner’s Knee”?

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), also known as “runner’s knee”, is a condition that affects people who participate in sports that involve running and jumping, as well as non-athletes and people of all ages. The main symptom of PFPS is a dull, aching pain in the front of the knee that worsens with activity, and it can be caused by overuse or overloading of the patellofemoral joint due to repetitive or excessive stress, poor alignment or tracking of the kneecap in the groove, muscle weakness or imbalance in the hip, thigh, or lower leg, injury or trauma to the kneecap or surrounding tissues, and other factors.

PFPS can be a common cause of knee pain, but with proper prevention strategies, you can avoid this condition and enjoy your activities without pain or limitations. Taking care of your knees is essential for your overall health and well-being, so make sure to prioritize their health and seek professional help if needed.

2. What is Patellar Tendinopathy?

Patellar tendinopathy, also known as "jumper's knee," is often associated with sports that involve a lot of jumping, such as basketball, volleyball, and netball. However, it can also affect people who do other activities that put stress on the knee, such as running, cycling, or squatting. The condition is not an inflammatory one but rather a degenerative one that occurs due to repeated stress and micro-tears in the patellar tendon.

The exact cause of patellar tendinopathy is not clear, but it may be related to:

  • Overuse or overload of the patellar tendon due to excessive or sudden changes in training volume, intensity, or frequency

  • Poor alignment or tracking of the kneecap in the groove of the thigh bone (femur), which can cause abnormal pressure and friction on the tendon

  • Muscle weakness or imbalance in the hip, thigh, or lower leg, which can affect the stability and function of the knee

  • Injury or trauma to the patellar tendon or surrounding tissues, such as a dislocation, fracture, or sprain

  • Other factors that may increase the risk of patellar tendinopathy include age (more common in young adults), sex (more common in men), foot problems (such as flat feet or high arches), obesity, and previous knee problems

The main symptom of patellar tendinopathy is pain at the bottom of the kneecap or along the patellar tendon. The pain may be worse when:

  • Starting or stopping an activity

  • Jumping or landing

  • Running or sprinting

  • Going up or down stairs

  • Kneeling or squatting

  • Sitting for long periods with a bent knee

Other symptoms may include:

  • Swelling or tenderness around the kneecap or patellar tendon

  • Popping or cracking sensations in the knee

  • Stiffness or reduced range of motion in the knee

  • Feeling of instability or weakness in the knee

While patellar tendinopathy can be treated with rest, ice, medication, physical therapy exercises, and other treatments, prevention is key. By taking care of your knees and avoiding factors that can trigger or worsen the condition, you can reduce your risk of developing patellar tendinopathy and enjoy your activities without pain or discomfort.

3. What is Tibial Stress Syndrome?

Often referred to as “shin splints”, which is an umbrella term for both Anterior Tibial Stress Syndrome and Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome. They are both vague and diffuse pain along the anterolateral tibia and medial distal tibia, respectively. It usually affects people who do activities that involve running, jumping, or changing direction, such as runners, dancers, or military recruits.

Tibial stress syndrome can be caused by:

  • Sudden changes or increases in training volume, intensity, or frequency

  • Running or jumping on hard or uneven surfaces

  • Wearing shoes that don't fit well or provide enough cushioning and support

  • Having flat feet or high arches that affect the alignment of the lower leg

  • Having weak or tight muscles in the hip, thigh, or lower leg that affect the stability and function of the knee

The main symptom of tibial stress syndrome is pain and tenderness along the inner side of the shin bone that worsens with activity. The pain may also be felt when starting or stopping an activity, going up or down stairs, kneeling or squatting, or sitting for long periods with a bent knee. Other symptoms may include swelling, redness, or stiffness around the shin bone.

The best way to prevent PFPS and Patellar Tendinopathy is to take care of your knees, and the best way to prevent Tibial Stress Syndrome is to avoid factors that can trigger or worsen it. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Warm up properly before exercising or playing sports: Before starting any physical activity, it's essential to warm up your muscles and joints to prevent injury and strain. Take a few minutes to do some light cardio and stretching exercises to increase blood flow to your knees.

  • Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts: Don't push yourself too hard too fast. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts to avoid overloading your patellar tendon.

  • Vary your activities and avoid repetitive stress on your knees or shins: Switch up your exercises and activities to avoid putting repetitive stress on your knees or shins. For example, if you're a runner, consider incorporating low-impact activities such as swimming or cycling into your routine.

  • Wear appropriate shoes for your activity and foot type: Choose shoes that fit well, provide good arch support, and are appropriate for your activity and foot type. Replace your shoes when they are worn out or lose their shape.

  • Maintain a healthy weight to reduce pressure on your knees: Excess weight can put unnecessary pressure on your knees and increase your risk of developing patellar tendinopathy. Maintain a healthy weight to reduce this risk.

  • Stretch your hip, thigh, and lower leg muscles regularly: Regular stretching can help improve the flexibility and mobility of your muscles and joints. Focus on stretching your hip, thigh, and lower leg muscles regularly.

  • Seek medical attention if you have knee pain that lasts more than a few days: Don't ignore knee pain that persists for more than a few days. Seek medical attention to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

4. What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is a common condition that causes heel pain and sometimes foot pain. It affects the plantar fascia, which is a thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes and supports the arch of the foot.

The plantar fascia acts like a shock absorber and helps you walk and move your foot. However, when the plantar fascia is overstretched or damaged, it can become inflamed and irritated. This inflammation causes pain and stiffness in the heel and bottom of the foot.

Plantar fasciitis can affect anyone, but it is more common in people who:

  • Are between 40 and 60 years old

  • Run or do other activities that put a lot of stress on the heel and foot

  • Have flat feet, high arches, or abnormal walking patterns

  • Are overweight or obese

  • Stand or walk on hard surfaces for long periods

  • Wear shoes that don't fit well or provide enough cushioning and support

The main symptom of plantar fasciitis is a sharp or stabbing pain in the heel, especially when you take your first steps in the morning or after sitting or resting for a while. The pain may also occur during or after exercise or at the end of the day. The pain may be worse when you flex your foot or toes upward.

Plantar fasciitis can interfere with your daily activities and affect your quality of life. However, with proper diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, you can recover from it and prevent it from coming back.

Most people with plantar fasciitis improve within six to 12 months with conservative treatment. However, some people may have persistent or recurrent symptoms that require more aggressive treatment.

To prevent plantar fasciitis, it is important to take care of your feet and avoid activities that put too much pressure on them. Some of the preventive measures you can take are:

  • Wear shoes that are comfortable, cushioned, and have good arch support. Avoid wearing high heels, flip-flops, or shoes that are worn out or too small.

  • Stretch your calf muscles and plantar fascia before and after exercise, and throughout the day. You can use a towel, a belt, or a foam roller to gently stretch these areas.

  • Maintain a healthy weight and avoid sudden weight gain or loss. Excess weight can increase the stress on your feet and cause inflammation.

  • Reduce the intensity and duration of your running or walking sessions, especially if you are new to these activities or have had previous injuries. Gradually increase your distance and speed over time and alternate between different types of surfaces.

  • Apply ice to your heel and foot for 15 to 20 minutes as needed, especially after exercise or prolonged standing. This can help reduce swelling and pain.

  • Seek medical attention if you have foot pain that lasts more than a few days.

5. What are Meniscal Injuries?

The menisci are pads of cartilage in the knee joint that act like cushions between the shinbone and the thighbone. They help stabilize the knee, ease movement, and absorb shock from walking and other weight-bearing activities.

A meniscal injury is a tear in one of the menisci that can result from trauma or degeneration of the knee joint. It can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and a sensation of the knee giving way or locking.

Some meniscal tears can heal on their own, especially if they are in the outer part of the meniscus that has a good blood supply. This area is called the red zone. Other tears may require surgery to repair or remove the damaged part of the meniscus. This area is called the white zone.

To prevent meniscal injuries, you can follow these tips:

  • Warm up properly before any physical activity that involves the knee.

  • Strengthen your thigh and calf muscles to support your knee joint.

  • Wear appropriate footwear and protective gear for your sport or activity.

  • Avoid sudden twists or turns of the knee that can stress the meniscus.

  • Maintain a healthy weight to reduce the pressure on your knee.

  • If you have a meniscal injury, seek prompt medical attention for the best treatment options.

Running Hygiene and Injury Prevention Tips:

  • Wash your hands before and after running, especially if you touch any public surfaces or equipment. This can help prevent the spread of germs and infections.

  • Wear clean and comfortable clothes and shoes that fit well and are appropriate for the weather and terrain. Avoid wearing cotton or other fabrics that retain moisture and cause chafing or blisters. Change your clothes and shoes as soon as possible after running to avoid skin irritation and fungal infections.

  • Hydrate well before, during, and after running. Drink water or sports drinks according to your thirst and sweat rate. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks that can dehydrate you or affect your performance.

  • Warm up properly before running to increase blood flow and oxygen to your muscles and joints. Do some dynamic stretches, such as leg swings, arm circles, lunges, and squats, to prepare your body for the activity. Avoid static stretches that can cause muscle damage or reduce your power output.

  • Cool down gradually after running to lower your heart rate and blood pressure and prevent blood pooling in your legs. Do some gentle static stretches, such as hamstring, calf, quadriceps, and hip flexor stretches, to relax your muscles and improve your flexibility. Hold each stretch for at least 15-30 seconds and breathe deeply.

  • Follow a balanced and nutritious diet that supports your running goals and needs. Eat a variety of foods from all food groups, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Avoid skipping meals or fasting before running, as this can lead to low blood sugar levels and fatigue. Eat a snack or a meal within two hours after running to replenish your glycogen stores and repair your muscle tissue.

  • Rest and recover adequately between runs to allow your body to adapt and improve. Aim for at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night and avoid staying up late or using electronic devices before bed. Take one or two rest days per week or alternate between hard and easy runs to avoid overtraining and burnout. Listen to your body and adjust your training plan accordingly if you feel tired, sore, or injured.

  • Prevent common running injuries by following proper running form, technique, and etiquette. Keep your posture upright, your head aligned with your spine, your shoulders relaxed, your arms swinging naturally, your core engaged, your hips stable, your knees slightly bent and your feet landing under your hips. Avoid heel striking, overstriding, bouncing, or twisting.

  • Run on smooth, even, and soft surfaces whenever possible, and avoid running on hills, stairs, or uneven terrain too often.

  • Wear running shoes that fit properly.

  • Wear reflective clothing or accessories and follow traffic rules when running on roads or in low-light conditions.

  • Do not run during the hottest part of the day. Early morning and late afternoon are preferable.

  • Stay alert and be aware of your surrounding at all times. Avoid known dangerous areas and choose populated over isolated areas. Carry your mobile phone and personal identification with you. Have a running buddy whenever possible.

  • Consult with a physical therapist for running analysis and training in proper running mechanics.

  • Seek professional help if you experience any pain, discomfort, or injury that does not improve with rest, ice, compression, or elevation. Consult a physician, or physical therapist for diagnosis and treatment options. Do not ignore or run through the pain, as this can worsen the condition and delay the recovery process.

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