How to prevent running injuries

Do you struggle to increase the distance you run because of pain? Is your running training constantly interrupted by injuries?
This doesn’t have to be the case! There are many ways you can work to prevent injuries and improve your running. Running is a great form of exercise with many benefits, however, it is not uncommon for runners to be plagued by injuries.

There are so many ways to optimize your running, see improvements whether that is in running speed or distance, and prevent or reduce the impact of injuries.

Several common injuries are seen in runners:

Shin Splints:
Shin splints are an extremely common overuse injury in runners affecting the tibia. It is a stress response to an increase in load and if left untreated with no decrease in load can progress to stress fractures of the tibia. Shin splints are characterized by pain in the middle to lower tibia, particularly after activity. The tibia is also tender to touch.

Achilles Tendinopathy:
Achilles tendinopathy is another overuse condition where the Achilles is exposed to a load they are not used to causing changes in the tendon properties. Achilles tendinopathy is of a gradual onset and pain is often present in the morning and at the start of running.

Patellofemoral Pain:
Patellofemoral pain is a condition affecting the patellofemoral joint in the knee. It can be caused by several factors such as overuse/overload and muscle imbalances. Running is a common activity that may flare up patellofemoral pain.

Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome:
ITB syndrome is a condition affecting the ITB which runs from the hip down to the outside of the knee. There are several reasons why this structure may cause pain and this can vary from rubbing on the outside of the knee near the ITB insertion to the band being compressed during the phase of the running cycle when the knee is flexed.

Ankle Sprains:
Ankle sprains are particularly common in trail runners who are running on uneven surfaces making them more prone to ankle sprains. The outside of the ankle is most commonly injured with an ankle sprain.

Tips to prevent injuries:

With the weather warming up, it is a lot more tempting to get outside in the sun and go for a run. Before you get into a running routine there are several steps you can take to prevent injuries.

  1. Have a good pair of shoes:
    It is amazing the differences a good pair of shoes can make to your running. It is a great idea to speak to a podiatrist or go to a shoe shop that analyses your walking and running style so you can get the best fit for your foot.
  2. Strengthening program:
    A strengthening program is often something runners fail to do but it is a key factor in reducing injuries. Your strengthening program does not have to be time-consuming and extensive but should target a few key areas. Strengthening through the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes is a great start and can ensure your muscles can withstand the loads of running.
  3. Recovery Sessions:
    When running long distances, it is important to allow time for your body to recover before your next big run. Recovery sessions generally involve running a shorter distance in the days following a long run. It is also important to allow for rest days within your running program to give time for your muscles to recover.
  4. Self-release work:
    Utilizing tools such as a foam roller or a spike ball is a great way to release tight and sore muscles yourself at home. After long runs, or whenever you are feeling sore foam rolling through your calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings is a great idea. You can also foam roll through your glutes, or alternatively use a spike ball to get deeper into the muscles.
  5. Guided Running Program
    If you are training for something specific such as a half or full marathon it is important to have a running program. Some people like to use running coaches to guide them through their training. A running program will allow you to gradually build up your running distance and pace reducing the risk of overuse injuries.

What to do if an injury is affecting my running?

Many long-distance runners fear that if they get an injury they will have to stop running, jeopardizing their ability to perform in future events or meet goals. This does not always have to be the case. Some injuries may warrant complete rest from running but in a lot of cases running does not need to be stopped entirely. Alongside rehabilitation exercises for the injury running may be allowed within certain parameters i.e. shorter distances. This can help runners maintain their fitness, work towards goals, and most importantly continue doing the activity they love.

It is important to see a health professional such as a physiotherapist if you are experiencing pain when running. As many running injuries are due to overuse it is important to get them seen to as soon as possible before they worsen. A physiotherapist will be able to give you a diagnosis of the injury, provide you with a rehabilitation program, and give you guidance about the capacity in which you can run.

With the right tools in place, injuries can be minimized in runners, however, if they do exist there are many management options available to get you back to running as soon as possible.