Common Running Injuries to Lower Extremities
Injuries associated with running are common and can happen for many reasons, especially when you push yourself too hard. Common injuries include patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee), Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, hamstring strain, shin splints, iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, and stress fractures.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
Patellofemoral pain syndrome, or runner’s knee, also called chondromalacia patella, is a dull pain around the patella, or knee cap, that gets worse when going down stairs, running hills, or after periods of rest. This happens when the patella is not tracking properly for a variety of reasons – it could be that there is a quad muscle imbalance or abnormal foot mechanics, for example. It’s possible to run through this particular injury, though Dr. Roof recommends physical therapy and, in certain cases, wearing a knee brace or using tape.
Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury of the Achilles tendon, which is the band of tissue that connects calf muscles at the back of the lower leg to the heel bone. It most commonly occurs in runners who have suddenly increased the intensity or duration of their runs, as well as middle-aged people who play high-intensity sports such as basketball or tennis at an irregular frequency such as only on the weekends.
“Achilles tendonitis is typically treated with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or naproxen, as well as physical therapy,” says Dr. Roof, “but your physician may suggest surgery to repair your Achilles tendon if several months of more conservative treatments are unsuccessful or if the tendon has torn.”
Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain and involves inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the toes (plantar fascia).
“A common symptom is a stabbing pain that is typically felt with the morning’s first steps,” says Dr. Roof. “The pain usually decreases throughout the day but can return after long periods of standing or rising from sitting.”
Though plantar fasciitis can arise without an obvious cause, there are factors that increase the risk of developing it, including age, certain types of exercises, foot mechanics, body weight, and occupations that keep you on your feet. Dr. Roof says that 95 to 97 percent of true plantar fasciitis cases resolve with conservative therapy – typically posterior calf stretching is the hallmark of treatment. It is possible to run through this injury as long as great caution is used.
The term “shin splints” refers to pain along the tibia, or shin bone, which is the large bone in the front of the lower leg. Shin splints are common in runners, dancers, military recruits, and athletes who have recently intensified or changed their training routines. The increased activity overworks the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue. Most cases can be treated with rest and ice, and you can usually run through the injury. Shin splints are generally diagnosed by someone noticing tenderness, soreness, or pain along the inner side of the shinbone, and mild swelling in the lower leg. At first, the pain might stop when you stop exercising, but the pain can eventually be continuous and could progress to a stress fracture.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
Iliotibial band syndrome, or IT band syndrome, is the most common cause of lateral knee pain in runners. It is an inflammation of a large band of connective tissue that runs along the length of the hip and continues down to the shin. The main function of the IT band is to stabilize the knee, assist with inward rotation, and help with hip abduction. This can be a chronic condition with “flare-ups,” but can be run through. Therapy exercises and stretching can be helpful in relieving symptoms, according to Dr. Roof.
Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone that are caused by repetitive force, often from overuse, such as repeatedly jumping up and down or running long distances. The tenderness from a stress fracture usually originates from a specific sport and decreases during rest, and there might be swelling around the painful area.
If you are experiencing any of these common running issues and they do not resolve quickly on their own, please make an appointment with your doctor or a foot and ankle specialist.