The Most Common Injuries In Runners And How To Deal With Them

You lace up your running shoes, stretch your muscles, and head out the door, ready to log some miles. Running provides so many benefits. It strengthens your heart, relieves stress, and boosts your mood. But within a few minutes, you feel a twinge of pain in your knee or a stabbing sensation in your shin.

According to Harvard, 30% to 75% of runners sustain injuries annually. These range from annoying aches and pains to debilitating fractures and tears requiring surgery. Running injuries limit your training and performance and diminish your quality of life.

The pain and loss of activity can put you in a bad mood and induce stress. Running injuries often turn chronic if you ignore or improperly treat them. As an experienced runner, chances are you’ve dealt with common running injuries like a runner’s knee, shin splints, stress fractures, and Achilles tendinitis. The good news is that knowledge is power when it comes to preventing and managing injuries.

In this blog post, I’ll inform you about the most prevalent running injuries, their causes, how to recognize symptoms, and evidence-based treatment options. I aim to provide practical tips so you can continue running safely and pain-free.

1. Runners Knee

Runner’s knee refers to a variety of conditions that cause pain around the kneecap (patella). The medical term for pain around the knee cap is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). This encompasses any irritation and discomfort in the front of the knee. Runner’s knee results from repetitive stress to the knee joint during activities like running. Several factors can contribute to a runner’s knee, including:


Running too often, too far, or too fast overloads the knee joint, resulting in inflammation. The constant pounding during running aggravates the tissues around the kneecap.

Muscle Imbalance

Weak or unbalanced muscles in your hips, thighs, or core can disrupt knee alignment. Your kneecap may not track properly in the groove at the end of your thighbone. This unequal distribution of force strains the knee.

Poor Running Technique

Improper running techniques like over-striding or excessive inward pronation can increase the stress on your knee joint. Land with your foot beneath your hips and maintain good posture.


Worn-out shoes without enough cushioning or motion control can fail to stabilize your foot, causing poor alignment at the knee. Ensure your shoes fit properly and replace them every 300-500 miles.

Hard Surfaces

Running on concrete sidewalks or asphalt roads transmits more shock to the knees than on softer surfaces like trails or tracks. Vary your routes to reduce impact. The most common runner’s knee symptoms include: 

• Pain around or behind the kneecap, especially when bending the knee 

• Tenderness at the patellar tendon where it attaches to your kneecap 

• Discomfort that increases when walking down stairs or hills 

• Swelling and inflammation around the kneecap 

• A grinding or popping feeling when moving the knee

How to Deal with Runner's Knee?

If you develop a runner’s knee, you must take proactive steps to alleviate pain and promote healing. Initially, rest your knee by avoiding activities like running that aggravate it. Don’t try to push through the pain, as this can worsen the injury. 

Apply ice packs to the injured knee for 15 minutes several times per day to reduce inflammation. Wrap the knee with an elastic bandage to provide compression as well. Keep your leg elevated with the knee straight to minimize swelling whenever possible. 

Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen to relieve pain and inflammation. See a physical therapist for specific stretches and strength exercises that target the leg and core muscles surrounding your knee. 

Strengthening these muscles will provide stability and support. Also, consider modifying your training regimen by reducing running frequency, distance and pace. So this will prevent overloading the joint. Wear proper running shoes for your foot type and replace them frequently to ensure adequate cushioning and support.

2. Shin Splints

Shin splints refer to pain along the shinbone or tibia that occurs with running and impact activities. While shin splints are common, they signal abnormal stress on the lower leg muscles and bones. 

With proper rest and rehab, shin splints can fully heal. Attempting to push through the pain can lead to stress fractures. Learn what causes shin splints, how to obtain relief, and ways to prevent future flare-ups. Shin splints often arise due to the following: 

Sudden Increases in Mileage: Ramping up your weekly running mileage or intensity too quickly overloads tissues and causes shin pain. 

Rugged or Slanted Terrains: Concrete roads and trails with side slants or cambers excessively load outer shin tissues. 

Rigid Arches: High arches or flat feet affect impact shock absorption, increasing shin strain. Use orthotics or shoes with proper stability features. 

Weak Lower Leg Muscles: Tight or weak calf, anterior tibialis, and intrinsic foot muscles contribute to shin splints. 

Symptoms of Shin Splints

• Aching or pain focused along the inner shin bone, worsening with activity 

• Possible swelling or redness of the lower leg 

• Tenderness when pressing directly over the shin 

• Discomfort walking, running, jumping, or climbing stairs 

• Pain that initially improves with rest then returns when resuming activity

Treating Active Shin Splints

If you are experiencing shin splint pain, focus on rest, recovery, and rehabilitation. Stop running and cross-train with non-impact activities like bicycling or swimming until the pain resolves, as this process may take weeks to months. Ice the shins for 15 minutes after the workout to control inflammation. 

Keep your legs elevated as much as possible to decrease swelling. Use compression sleeves to provide muscular support and stabilization during recovery. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can help relieve discomfort as needed. 

Working with a physical therapist allows you to perform targeted lower leg strengthening exercises using resistance bands. Dedicate time daily to stretching and foam rolling your calves, shins, ankles and feet to improve flexibility. 

Visit a specialty running store to have your gait analyzed and get properly fitted with well-cushioned, supportive shoes. Opt to run on softer surfaces like tracks or trails rather than hard concrete whenever possible. Taping or strapping the shins reduces muscle strain during activity. Prioritizing rest and rehabilitation sets you up for full recovery. 

Preventing Recurring Shin Splints

You can prevent shin splints from recurring by taking consistent preventative measures. Gradually build up your running mileage and intensity over time without suddenly making large jumps in training load. Complete lower leg strengthening exercises that target your calves, shins, ankles, and feet 2-3 times per week. 

Thoroughly stretch your lower limbs after every run session. Opt to run on non-cambered, softer surfaces like tracks or trails as much as possible rather than hard concrete. Consider getting custom orthotics if you have rigid high arches or flat feet that affect shock absorption. 

Maintain proper running form and ideal landing mechanics, like over-striding. Wear a compression sleeve or tape your shins while running to provide extra muscular support and stability. Making these preventative measures routine and listening to your body protects you from experiencing this frustrating overuse injury again.

3. Stress Fracture

Stress fractures are tiny cracks or severe bruising within a bone caused by repetitive stress. They are an overuse injury that commonly affects runners. With proper rest and recovery, stress fractures can heal fully. But attempting to run through this pain can lead to more severe fractures. Arm yourself with knowledge about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for stress fractures. 

A stress fracture represents damage within the bone structure, unlike fractures from major trauma. The medical term is a stress reaction or fatigue fracture. Stress fractures frequently occur in the weight-bearing bones of the lower body, like the feet, ankles, shins, and hips. The constant impact during running slowly weakens these bones over time. Stress fractures often result from:

Training Mistakes

Ramping up your running mileage, intensity, or frequency too quickly overloads bones. Gradual training progression allows bones to adapt to increasing loads. Consistently running too many miles without rest days prevents the repair of microdamage to bone tissue. 

Rough Surfaces

Concrete roads or trails covered in rocks transmit more force to bones compared to softer surfaces. Vary running surfaces as much as possible. Tracks and dirt trails help attenuate impact.

Improper Footwear

Running in shoes without proper cushioning or support prevents normal shock absorption. Replace shoes every 300-500 miles as the materials compress. Consider visiting a specialty running store for a gait analysis.

Low Bone Density

Runners with osteopenia or osteoporosis are vulnerable to stress fractures, as their weaker bones cannot handle as much stress before fracturing. Get tested for bone mineral density.

Symptoms of Stress Fractures

• Ache or pain focused in a specific spot on the bone that worsens with running. 

• Tenderness, bruising, or swelling over the affected bone 

• Discomfort when pressing directly on the sore spot 

• Pain that initially improves with rest but flares up when running resumes 

• Lost training time from being unable to run through pain

Treating Stress Fractures

Refrain from running or high-impact activity that damages the injured bone and worsens pain. Take 1-2 months off running to allow the bone to repair properly. Keep weight off the affected bone with crutches if needed. Apply ice packs for 15 minutes daily to relieve pain and swelling. 

Depending on fracture severity, your doctor may place the injured bone in a removable boot or cast to immobilize it. Limited weight bearing helps the bone mend. A physical therapist can guide you through the range of motion and strengthening exercises to maintain fitness during your running break. Other ways to treat stress fractures are: 

Cross Train: Engage in non-weight-bearing cardio like cycling, swimming, or using an elliptical to keep cardiovascular fitness. Don’t rush back into running. 

Improve Bone Health: Consume adequate calcium and vitamin D to nourish bones. Check with your doctor about supplements if bone density is a concern. 

Transition Back Slowly: When your doctor clears you to run again, ease back into training gradually over several weeks to avoid re-injury. 

4. Achilles Tendinitis

The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel bone and withstands tremendous forces during running. Achilles tendinitis refers to inflammation of this tendon due to overuse, poor flexibility, or faulty biomechanics. With prompt treatment, Achilles tendinitis can resolve without long-term consequences. Ignoring ongoing pain and swelling can lead to larger tears or rupture. 

Achilles tendinitis represents tiny tears or fraying within the tendon fibers caused by repetitive stress and tension. The pain concentrates in the back of the heel or lower calf. Symptoms usually begin gradually with localized soreness that worsens over time. The medical term for this condition is Achilles tendinopathy or tendinosis. The most common contributors to Achilles tendinitis include:

Inflexible Calf Muscles: Tight calf muscles increase strain on the Achilles tendon during running or explosive moves. Always stretch and foam roll calves after running. 

Sudden Increases in Mileage: Abruptly ramping up running distance or intensity overloads the Achilles tendon. Increase training loads gradually over time. 

Overpronation: Excess inward foot rolling during foot strike places more stress on the outer Achilles tendon. Use motion-control shoes or orthotics. 

Hill Training: Running hills, stairs, or inclines forces extra calf contraction and stretch on the Achilles tendon. Progress gradually with hill repeats. 

Worn Shoes: Cushioning breaks down after 300-500 miles, reducing support. Replace running shoes frequently

Symptoms and Treatments of Achilles Tendinitis

Achilles pain presents in the back of the heel or lower calf, especially when: 

• Pushing off the foot or explosive movements 

• Running uphill or climbing stairs 

• Hopping or jumping 

• Standing on tiptoes or leaning forward 

Also, watch for morning stiffness in the tendon or limping after resting. Swelling, tenderness, and thickening or nodules on the tendon indicate tendinitis. Use these methods to reduce inflammation and promote healing: 

• Rest from aggravating activities to allow the tendon to recover • Ice the back of the heel for 15 minutes after exercise to control swelling 

• Compress the tendon with a wrap and elevate the foot to decrease swelling 

• Take anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen to relieve pain 

• Stretch and massage calves to improve flexibility and blood flow • Strengthen the calf and foot muscles through exercises using resistance bands 

• Consider orthotics or heel lifts to reduce strain on the Achilles tendon

Treating Severe or Chronic Achilles Tendinitis

If Achilles tendinitis persists and does not respond to initial treatment, more aggressive rehabilitation may be needed. A temporary walking boot can immobilize the tendon, allowing complete rest and healing. 

Working with a physical therapist can provide structured stretching and eccentric strengthening exercises for the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. Shock wave therapy uses sound waves to stimulate blood flow and regenerate tendon tissue. 

Dry needling uses thin needles to break up scar tissue adhesions that develop in the tendon. For severe chronic cases, platelet-rich plasma injections may help reduce inflammation. Surgery is rarely needed but may be a last resort for tendinitis that does not improve with extensive conservative treatment.

Preventing Future Achilles Tendinitis

The best way to avoid Achilles flare-ups is through preventative measures that protect the tendon. Performing calf muscle and foot stretches after every run maintains flexibility and range of motion. 

Strengthening the lower leg and foot 2-3 times per week via resistance training improves tendon support. Gradually increasing your running mileage and intensity over time, rather than dramatic spikes, allows the Achilles to adapt to training stresses. 

Avoid running all your miles on hard surfaces, and opt for softer trails and tracks whenever possible. Replacing your running shoes around 500 miles maintains proper cushioning and support. Using proper hill training techniques by leaning forward and taking shorter, quicker steps reduces strain on the tendon. 

A Final Recap

Running delivers immense health and fitness benefits but also carries injury risks if your body is not properly prepared. Common running injuries like runner’s knee, Achilles tendinitis, and shin splints occur due to overuse, training errors, or biomechanical factors. 

Healing these conditions requires rest, icing, medications, rehabilitation exercises, gear adjustments, and technique improvements. However, ideal injury prevention strategies involve proactively strengthening your body, monitoring warning signs, and running smarter training plans. 

It also requires supporting your joints and muscles through proper warming up, cooling down, stretching, hydration, and rest. Listen to your body and address emerging pains early. With knowledge of injury causes, treatments, and prevention methods, you can continue running safely long-term and optimize your performance!

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