Top 10 Common Running Injuries

By: Craig Haggit

R.E.M. sang that everybody hurts sometimes. It's been reported that more than half of active runners get hurt every year.
R.E.M. sang that everybody hurts sometimes. It's been reported that more than half of active runners get hurt every year.
Polka Dot Images/Thinkstock

Runners and pain. Like the very best of friends, it seems like the two are rarely separated for long. From the beginner strapping on her first pair of running shoes to a veteran jogger going for his millionth lap around the neighborhood, running injuries can happen to anyone at any time. Whether you run for fun or for competition, nobody is immune. In fact, it's been reported that around 50 to 60 percent of active runners experience an injury every single year [source: Fields, Burfoot].

Knowing how to recognize an injury early and how to treat it can keep it from getting worse and get you back on your feet fast. Likewise, knowing some of the risk factors can help you take steps to prevent injury in the first place. For example, cavus (high-arched) feet and muscle weakness are significant risk factors in injuries to your feet or ankles [source: Fields].


In this article, we're going to take a look at 10 injuries that frequently affect runners and find out what causes them, who needs to be the most careful, what you can do about it and -- better yet -- what you can do to avoid getting sidelined in the first place. Keep in mind that if you're injured and you're not sure what's wrong, see a doctor for a professional evaluation.

10: Side Aches

A lot of us remember these from when we were growing up. Officially referred to as exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), the causes of side stitches and side aches aren't fully understood by doctors. That's too bad, because up to 60 percent of runners deal with the pain in any given year, according to some studies [source: Morton].

Like many ailments associated with youth, this is one that, for most people, decreases in frequency and intensity with age. Stress on muscles in the abdomen is generally accepted as the cause, though which muscles and what stresses them is a matter of some debate.


To beat this annoying pain, avoid eating or drinking too much before a run. That doesn't work with everyone, so you may have to experiment to see what works best for you. Resting for a bit usually relieves the pain. When you start up again, you may have to go slower to keep the pain at bay for the rest of your run.

Just be glad that getting older is a positive influence on saying goodbye to side aches for good.

9: Bursitis of the Knee

Don't forget to stretch before any strenuous activity -- the key to avoiding injuries.
Don't forget to stretch before any strenuous activity -- the key to avoiding injuries.

Doing anything over and over again can get pretty annoying. Think of bursitis as your body getting annoyed with you. Tiny fluid-filled sacs, called bursae, cushion your tendons from your bones, making movements around your knees, ankles and other areas smooth. Heavy, repetitive motion like running can irritate the bursa and can cause inflammation and pain.

Bursitis is characterized by a general pain or burning surrounding the bursae area. In the knees, this area is immediately above or below the patella, or kneecap, and behind the tendons as they approach the patella.


What you don't want to do is force your way through it. If the inflammation becomes too bad, the bursae can break open and cause infection, which in severe cases may even require surgery to repair.

The best treatment for bursitis is to remove the pressure on the bursa. Cortisone injections can cause more harm than good and should be avoided. For most people, the pain will subside in a few weeks. In more serious cases, you should consult a good sports doctor for an expert opinion.

You're better off not needing any of the above advice and avoiding bursitis completely. To minimize your chances of falling prey to this problem, make sure you warm up properly before running, and stretch your legs well. This will loosen up your tendons, thereby reducing the friction on the bursae [source: Schwartzburg]. Your knees will thank you for it.

8: Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis (AT) can be quite painful, especially if untreated. It's caused by excessive strain on the Achilles tendon, usually by a combination of poor running posture and inadequate heel support. The term itself applies to any of several conditions that cause inflammation of the tendon, none of which will help your running plans.

Treatment can involve corticosteroid injections, but this method is not without its detractors [source: Cantin]. More traditional and less controversial methods include icing and rest, with physical therapy recommended as necessary [source: MedlinePlus].


Like many injuries, you can reduce your chances of getting sidelined with tendonitis by warming up and stretching properly before a run, and avoiding sharp increases in your training. Increase your mileage and running frequency gradually to avoid putting more strain on your lower extremities than they can handle, especially if you plan on doing lots of hard surfaces or run in hilly areas [source: Cantin]. Make sure you're not overpronating (too much inward roll on your feet), since this is another contributing factor to developing AT.

7: Stress Fractures of the Foot

Get plenty of rest, pick the right shoes and take it easy if you want to avoid stress fractures in the early stages of your training regimen.
Get plenty of rest, pick the right shoes and take it easy if you want to avoid stress fractures in the early stages of your training regimen.

We ask a lot of our bones, some bones more than others. If you're a runner, you pretty much ask the world of your feet. Unfortunately, the bones in your feet are some of the smaller and more fragile bones you've got. When you consider that stress fractures affect track-and-field athletes more than any other group, it stands to reason that taking care of these bones should be one of your top priorities [source: Wilder].

Stress fractures are caused when repeated exercise places too much stress on the bones. New runners, who too often haven't yet developed proper running technique or training methods, are particularly susceptible to this condition. To keep a stress fracture from occurring in the first place, use proper shoes, don't increase your training mileage by more than 10 percent at any one time, and make sure you're well rested between runs.


The worst thing you can do with a stress fracture is nothing. The bone is cracked, which means continued stress can cause a complete fracture in the bone and additional couch time. Treatment, preferably through a doctor, involves rest and immobilization [source: O&P Business News]. If you can't see yourself staying still that long, you might also try some running exercises in a pool [source: Mann]. This will at least keep pressure off of the injured bone.

6: Sprained Ankle

Runners on rocky trails are on constant guard against this painful injury. Spraining your ankle means you've stretched the connective ligaments beyond what they were able to handle. The ankle can twist in lots of ways, but one wrong landing can set you back weeks, depending on how severe the sprain is. If you've suffered this injury, you probably already have a good idea of how severe it is.

Treatment depends on severity. A very mild sprain can sometimes be walked off, but a more severe sprain requires more attention to prevent further damage. Your ankle will be weakened. Taping it up provides some support in the short term, but you'll need to rest it and keep the swelling down until it heals to prevent additional injury. Remember, anytime you try to power through an injury, you run the risk of altering your running style enough to increase your risk for other injuries.


While it's true that staying on a smooth, level running surface will minimize your chances for a sprain, this isn't realistic. Trail runners in particular need to stay focused on the path in front of them, constantly watching out for sharp rocks or potentially loose terrain. All runners, though, should use common sense and stay alert to any obstacles in your path.

5: Blisters

Moisture and friction are two key ingredients in helping create blisters.
Moisture and friction are two key ingredients in helping create blisters.
Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

One of the most common injuries for runners seems pretty innocuous on the surface. No bones are broken, no ligaments damaged. Still, anyone who's had a significant blister can attest to how strongly the pain they inflict can affect your running. The changes in running posture caused by this pain can easily lead to additional injuries. It's a dark road you don't want to explore.

Blisters are damage to the skin, usually from friction and too much moisture [source: Mann]. If you fall victim to one (or more -- they often like to come with friends), don't try to break the blister. As tempting as it is, it could lead to infection. If it's already broken, sterilize the area and apply a bandage. Unbroken blisters will heal on their own if you leave them uncovered.


Prevention is simple. Wear socks that wick away moisture from the feet, and use shoes that fit your feet properly. Like most running injuries, not overtraining will go a long way toward your goal of never seeing another running-related blister.

4: Plantar Fasciitis

Any injury with its own Latin name can't be a good thing, and this is no exception. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the ligament supporting the arch of your foot (the plantar fascia) becomes strained. The major sign that you've fallen prey to this injury is if your feet hurt or are unusually stiff after periods of inactivity [source: WebMD].

Overtraining is a leading cause of this ailment, though overpronation in your stride is a large contributor as well. Another contributing factor is weight. Overweight people are also prone to this problem due to the strain they put on their arches during normal walking. If you're running to lose weight, you need to be particular careful to avoid this injury.


To alleviate this problem, try stretching and anti-inflammatory medicine, though surgery is an option in severe cases.

You can help prevent this from happening at all if you make sure you have enough support in your shoes before you start running.

3: Muscle Cramps

If you want to prevent muscle cramps, drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated is a good start.
If you want to prevent muscle cramps, drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated is a good start.

Cramps are about as mysterious to doctors as they are painful. They can strike out of the blue and usually afflict endurance athletes more than others. There is some indication that they at least can be broken down into two primary causes: skeletal-muscle overload and electrolyte deficiency [source: Bergeron].

If you suspect the cause is muscular fatigue, then massaging the affected area should bring relief. If your muscles aren't particular fatigued, but you've been sweating excessively (or not enough), then taking in a half-liter of a carbohydrate/electrolyte drink with a few grams of salt over the course of 5 to 10 minutes should help alleviate the symptoms [source: Bergeron].


To keep cramps from happening in the first place, take in extra electrolytes, stretch before and after exercise and cool down when you're done. It's doubtful any regimen will completely remove your risk of muscle cramps, especially if you're running marathons or triathlons. Like most of the injuries in the article however, you can minimize your risk by not taking on too much training too soon.

2: Shin Splints

Like stress fractures, shin splints are most common among newer runners. This could be from improper running technique, being overweight or from overtraining (yes, that old chestnut) and is sometimes known as medial tibial stress syndrome. This sometimes-excruciating injury occurs when repeated stress from running inflames the tissue surrounding the tibia.

If you're suffering from this problem, avoid running for a few days. You don't have to stay off your feet completely, but avoid the exercise that caused the injury to keep it from getting worse. Make sure it's not a stress fracture, too, which could lead to more concerns.


Stretching and training exercises to increase your flexibility and strength will help prevent this from recurring [source: Wharton].

1: Runner's Knee

Runners have to take care of their knees if they hope for a successful career.
Runners have to take care of their knees if they hope for a successful career.
Polka Dot Images/Thinkstock

Yes, the knee again. Unlike bursitis, runner's knee, or iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), affects a band alongside the knee, which is why this condition is often characterized by sharp lateral pain in the knee area [source: Fredericson]. This pain usually recurs within a predictable time or distance from the start of a run [source: Nessel].

ITBS is basically an inflammatory problem, so anti-inflammatories should help alleviate the immediate symptoms. If you find yourself suffering from this injury, your best bet is to take a week or two off from running to recuperate.

When you've recovered enough to start running again, proper stretching and warmups should help reduce the pressure that causes the inflammation. Another recommended prevention strategy is to strengthen your gluteus medius (hip muscles) using step exercises [source: Nessel].

ITBS, along with all of the injuries we've discussed, can usually be prevented by warmups and stretching, and not taking on too many miles too soon. Take your time, enjoy the sport and stay healthy.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Bergeron, Michael. "Muscle Cramps During Exercise: Is It Fatigue or Electrolyte Deficit?" Current Sports Medicine Reports. Vol. 7, No. 4 (suppl). 2008. Pages S50-S55.
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