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The Top Five Running Injuries

Avoid Repetitive Strain Injuries From Running

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Updated October 27, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Running is a popular sport enjoyed by many people of all ages. While running is great exercise for the muscles, joints, heart and lungs, it may also cause repetitive strain on body parts and be a source of injury.

While not all running injuries can be avoided, many repetitive strain injuries from running can. By maintaining adequate flexibility and strength, you can limit your chances of suffering from the top five running injuries.

  1. Iliotibial Band Syndrome: Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) occurs when there is repetitive friction of the iliotibial band, a thick mass of tissue that courses down the outside of the thigh from the hip to the front of the knee. Irritation of the ITB usually causes intense burning pain in the outside portion of the kneecap. Treatment of ITBS involves rest and ice during the initial phase of injury. This can help limit the inflammatory response.

    After a short period of rest, gentle stretching of the ITB can be started. Occasionally hip and abdominal strength limitations can have an effect on knee position during running, which can place stress on the ITB. Therefore, hip and core strengthening may be required to fully recover from ITBS. Your doctor and physical therapist can help you determine which specific muscles groups you should focus on.

  2. Piriformis Syndrome: The piriformis is a muscle that resides deep in the hip and serves to rotate and stabilize the hip. Irritation of the piriformis muscle can cause hip and buttock pain. The piriformis muscle courses over the sciatic nerve, and tightness in the piriformis muscle can cause pain that runs down the leg, much like sciatica. If you have piriformis syndrome, your doctor and physical therapist should evaluate you to determine the biomechanical cause of the pain. Since low back pain is sometimes felt in the hip, examination of your low back and spine should occur. Initial treatment of piriformis syndrome involves a period of rest. Once the acute pain has subsided, stretching and strengthening the muscles of the hips and legs should occur.

  3. Patellofemoral Stress Syndrome (PFSS): This common knee problem occurs with improper tracking of the kneecap in the groove of the femur and causes pain around the kneecap. It can be caused by tightness in the iliotibial band, weakness in the thigh muscles, or weakness in the hip muscles. Treatment of PFSS involves rest and ice to control initial inflammation. After a short period of rest, gentle stretching and strengthening can be done. Your physical therapist should also evaluate your gait and running stride to assess if other mechanical faults are causing your problem.

  4. Shin Splints: Shin splints are caused by inflammation of the anterior tibialis tendon in the front of the shin. Symptoms of shin splints include pain, numbness and burning in the front of the shin. Occasionally poor foot position can cause shin splints, so your physical therapist should evaluate the position of your feet while you are standing and lying down. Orthotics are sometimes necessary to correct foot position.

  5. Plantar Fasciitis: The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue on the bottom of the foot that helps form the arch of the foot. Irritation of the plantar fascia can cause pain on the bottom of the foot near the heel bone. You should initially treat plantar fasciitis with a period of rest and ice. Gentle stretching of the calf and leg muscles should be started. As with shin splints, a foot evaluation may be necessary to see if the position of your feet may be a mechanical cause of plantar fasciitis.

If you are a runner experiencing any repetitive strain injuries, you should speak with your doctor and physical therapist to decide on the best treatment for you. A thorough evaluation of your specific biomechanics while running can help you treat the current problem and prevent future episodes of pain.

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