How to get over the most common running injuries

Andrea Boffo on how to cope with three most troubling issues faced by runners

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Running injuries are incredibly common. In fact, it’s estimated that in the UK around 1 million runners are injured each year; that’s around half of all British runners in total. Although running injuries are common, it’s important to remember that they can be very serious. Don’t lose the joy of running due to injury. Instead, make sure to take the time to treat your injuries properly and let your body recover.

Here are three common running injuries and how to recover from them:

Runner’s knee

The official name for this type of injury is ‘patellofemoral pain syndrome’, although it is more commonly known as ‘runner’s knee’. It happens when the knee doesn’t move smoothly up and down when the leg bends and straightens. While anyone can develop runner’s knee, it’s usually a little more common in older females, who typically have a higher risk of a loss of bone density and osteoporosis. This is because these conditions can cause the knee to become unaligned with its ‘track’, creating grinding movements.

It may be difficult to know if you have runner’s knee or not because the pain can vary significantly between runners. While one runner may experience a dull sensation in the knee, another may have a very sharp and severe pain. The pain is, however, usually limited to the knee and knee area only.

As the knee grinds as it moves, it creates wear and tear resulting in more and more pain over time. That’s why early intervention is key to treating runner’s knee. The solution is to ensure the kneecap is well supported. This can be done by strengthening the quadriceps (the thigh muscle) through gentle exercise, or by using orthotics inside high-quality running shoes. Good running shoes don’t have to be expensive, especially when you take advantage of deals and vouchers like these Nike promo codes, thanks to which the pair of shoes you want so much is in your budget.

Muscle strain

Muscle strain in runners is usually seen in either the hamstring (located between the hip and the knee) or in the calf; two muscles that are used a lot in running. These sorts of strains are simply caused by overusing muscles that don’t often get much of a workout. For this reason, muscle strain is very common in new runners whose bodies are not accustomed to this type of workout. It is so common, in fact, that the NHS reports that muscle strain is one of the top five most frequently reported injuries seen in runners.  

Muscle strain often creates a very sudden yet dull pain; a little bit like the lingering pain experienced after taking an accidental kick to the leg in football. In some cases there may also be some noticeable swelling around the affected muscle, so runners are advised not to exercise until they are fully healed.

Recovery from a strained muscle can take anywhere from two weeks to six months. However, you may be able to accelerate healing and reduce pain by applying ice (wrapped in a tea towel - or use the classic bag of frozen peas) to the sore area. If there is swelling, also keep the leg raised as much as possible. Fortunately, the risk of muscle strains when running can be significantly minimised by preparing the muscles for exercise through proper warm up and cool down sessions before and after going for a run.

Achilles tendinopathy

Achilles tendinopathy affects the tendon at the back of the ankle which is responsible for connecting the muscle to the bone. It is very common and affects 150,000 people every year. This running injury is usually caused by overuse, or by multiple small injuries to the tendon over time. However, there is some disagreement as to exact causes, with some medical professionals claiming that Achilles tendinopathy can also be caused by factors outside of our control, such as gender, metabolism, or genetics in general.

With Achilles tendinopathy, there is often pain in the heel or ankle, and there may also be a small lump underneath the skin or swelling in the area. As with runner’s knee, the pain varies from runner to runner. It may be a mild but constant pain or an intermittent pain that’s severe and sudden.

Ice can help to relieve the pain, and it can also be beneficial to massage the heel and ankle regularly, especially if there is a lump present. You might also find it more comfortable to use heel wedges inside your shoes throughout recovery, which can be around three to four weeks according to the NHS. As the pain is often worse in the mornings, some runners will continue to exercise when they have Achilles tendinopathy, although this is not recommended and may actually cause more damage to the foot.

How to prevent running injuries - general advice
If you’re a runner, you’ll know that injuries are all part of the job description. Injuries when participating in any sort of sports and exercise cannot always be fully prevented or avoided. However, it is possible to minimise the risk of injury, and this risk reduction is something that all runners should be focusing on.

The risk of injury can be reduced by strengthening your muscles through training exercises to enable them to better cope with the strain that running places on them. It is also essential to increase your mileage gradually over time, working up to longer runs rather than shocking the body straight into a marathon. And perhaps most importantly, be sure to include rest days as a standard part of your running schedule, providing your body with the time it needs to repair, heal, and recover from exercise.