Nearly 45% of runners will experience an injury that forces them to stay out of action for months. But you don’t need to worry about being sidelined because you can take steps to prevent the most common problem facing long-distance runners: overuse injuries.
The sports medicine specialists at Cascade Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Center, PC, work with many long-distance runners, creating training programs to help them avoid injuries and providing personalized treatment when a problem arises.
Here, they give you a rundown of three most common injuries in long-distance runners.
About overuse injuries
When a long-distance runner develops a musculoskeletal problem, it’s nearly always an overuse injury. Anytime you engage in athletic activities, your muscles, ligaments, and tendons naturally develop tiny injuries from the exertion.
Getting enough rest between running gives the small tears time to heal. But if you don’t get enough rest or place extra stress on the tissues by increasing your regimen, an overuse injury develops. Then the area becomes inflamed, and as you keep running, the injury worsens.
You’re especially vulnerable to overuse injuries when you:
- Increase the number of days you run
- Run longer distances or for a longer time
- Increase your running speed
- Don’t wear supportive footwear
- Run on a hard or uneven surface
Unfortunately, it’s easy to keep running in the early stage of an overuse injury because your symptoms are usually mild at first. Then the pain increases gradually as the injury doesn’t heal.
Common running injuries
Long-distance runners may have problems with their hips and lower back. But running injuries most often affect the knees, feet, ankles, and lower leg. Three of the most common injuries include:
1. Runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome)
Runner’s knee causes pain underneath or around your kneecap (patella). This condition most often develops when repeated stress and movement lead to an overuse injury.
However, you can also end up with runner’s knee if the kneecap comes out of its groove, your lower leg and knee don't align properly with your foot, or when the cartilage underneath the kneecap deteriorates.
Cartilage degeneration, called chondromalacia patella, leads to bone pain and inflammation in the lining of the knee joint tissues.
2. Achilles tendonitis
The Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to the heel bone. This tendon is responsible for lifting your heel and helping your foot push off the ground. When repeated foot movements of long-distance running cause inflammation in the tendon, you have Achilles tendonitis.
Like runner’s knee, you’re most likely to develop Achilles tendonitis when you increase the intensity or duration of your running.
You usually feel the pain above your heel after you stop running. Without treatment, the pain becomes more frequent, and occurs even when you’re not engaged in athletic activities.
3. Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome)
Shin splints cause pain along the front of your shinbone (tibia). The pain comes from the area where tendons connect to the bone.
Long-distance running causes repeated pulling and friction where the tissues attach, causing bone inflammation and the pain of shin splints. Your risk of developing shin splints is higher if you have flat feet or run on uneven ground.
Without treatment, shin splints can lead to a stress fracture in your shinbone. Stress fractures are small cracks that develop due to overuse.
Treating long-distance running injuries
Most people with runner’s knee, Achilles tendonitis, or shin splints improve with nonsurgical treatments. After evaluating your injury, we recommend a customized treatment plan that may include:
- Rest (or temporarily switch to a low-impact activity)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs)
- Ice packs (for 20 minutes, several times daily)
- Compression (to reduce swelling)
- Flexibility exercises
- Supportive shoes
- Custom orthotics
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation
When we determine the tissues have healed, we create a plan for gradually returning to running. You’ll begin at a lower intensity than your running regimen before your injury and immediately rest for a day or two if you start feeling the same pain.
At the same time, we develop a plan to prevent future injuries, including customized exercises and training, ensuring your shoes provide the proper support, and recommending orthotics to correct gait, balance, or movement problems.
Don’t wait to get help for a running injury. Call Cascade Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Center, PC, or request an appointment online, today.