5 common running injuries – and how to avoid them

Running injuries can derail your training.

Running injuries can derail your training.

There's nothing quite as frustrating for an avid runner as dealing with a training injury. Though there's no magical way to avoid accidents when exercising, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk, specifically when it comes to injuries caused by excessive use of your body. 

According to Mayo Clinic, overuse injuries are typically caused by one of two things: training errors or technique errors. Training mistakes generally occur when you take on too much, too quickly. In running, this could look like increasing your distance or pace too fast for your body to keep up. Mistakes related to your technique are caused by running with improper form, which puts excessive stress on certain muscles.

Whether you're a veteran runner with multiple marathons under your belt or a first-time contender training for your inaugural 5k, the following are five injuries you may run a risk of sustaining as you pound the pavement:

1. Shin splints
Medial tibial stress syndrome, or "shin splints," is caused by inflammation around the tibia in the tendons, muscles and bone tissue. The condition is triggered by the repetitive use of the leg and pain is typically experienced on the tibia's inner border, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Shin splints are sometimes caused by a sudden increase in activity – such as dramatically extending the distance of your runs. However, other factors can also contribute, such as flat or extremely rigid arches or using footwear that is worn out or ill-fitted.

To avoid this condition, it's important to gradually increase the distances you run. Wearing an athletic shoe that fits well – and replacing it when it wears out – is also critical. 

2. Runner's knee
More formally known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, "runner's knee" is a common problem when training for a race. In this condition, the underside of the knee – which is padded by soft cartilage – becomes irritated, causing discomfort. However, the University of California, San Francisco's department of orthopaedic surgery reported that the term runner's knee is sometimes also used to describe other conditions that cause pain in this area, such as pes anserine tendonitis/bursitis or iliotibial band friction syndrome.     

To avoid runner's knee, perhaps the most important step is to cut back on your training if you notice discomfort in this area. Pushing through the pain is only going to make the problem worse. You should also avoid running hills or other slopes more than necessary if runner's knee has been a problem for you in the past.  

Wearing the right shoes is an important part of avoiding running injuries.  Wearing the right shoes is an important part of avoiding running injuries.

3. Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is caused by the inflammation of the band of tissue that connects the base of your toes to your heel bone. It is characterized by severe pain in your heel. You may especially notice it when you first step out of bed in the morning. According to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, you are more at risk of developing plantar fasciitis if you have extremely flat or high arches or particularly tight calf muscles that impede how far you can flex your ankles. 

To avoid developing plantar fasciitis, it's important to avoid tension in your ankles and calves not only when you're running, but when you're sitting or standing as well. ACTIVE additionally emphasized the importance of avoiding heel striking when running. You should be landing on your mid-foot with each stride.  

This condition usually goes away over time without any serious intervention, such as surgery, but can take months to truly disappear. The right splints can be particularly beneficial in your recovery. Nice Stretch® Night Splints for plantar fasciitis were created with patient comfort in mind so that you won't be tempted to skip nights as your injury heals. 

4. Achilles Tendonitis
Achilles tendonitis is the inflammation of the Achilles tendon – the largest tendon in your body. The condition is characterized by pain along the back of your leg down near the heel. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, there are two types of this overuse injury: Noninsertional Achilles Tendinitis and Insertional Achilles Tendinitis. Noninsertional is more common in young, active people. It involves tiny tears in the tendon accompanied by swelling and thickening. Insertional affects the area where the tendon connects to the heel. 

To reduce your risk of developing Achilles tendonitis, Mayo Clinic recommended increasing your activity level gradually, choose shoes that provide cushioning for your heel, strengthen the muscles in your calf and alternate high- and low-impact activities through cross-training. You should also avoid spending too much time performing activities that put excessive stress on your tendons, such as running on hills. 

5. Heel Spur
Heel spurs are calcium deposits under the heel bone that can sometimes cause noticeable bumps. They are often associated with plantar fasciitis. However, pain in your heel doesn't necessarily mean that you have a spur. Cleveland Clinic reported that only about half of people who develop heel spurs feel any pain. Whatever is causing the heel pain, Dr. Alan Davis, an orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon, emphasized the importance of wearing the proper shoes for both your foot and your activity: 

 "If you're going running, wear running shoes; going on a hike, wear hiking shoes," Davis told Cleveland Clinic. "Wear the appropriate footwear for whatever activity you're doing to help support your foot properly." 

Davis reported that stretching, taking anti-inflammatories and icing your foot can also help. If you're still experiencing discomfort, try to reduce the impact on your heels through immobilization boots or crutches.