There are numerous benefits to running, including improved cardiovascular, mental, and physical health, to name a few. Avid runners would love to live an injury-free life, but unfortunately running can be very hard on the body due to the repetitive impact of the activity.
A physical therapist can work with you to prevent or manage common running-related injuries with personalized treatment plans. After making a diagnosis, a physical therapist can help their patients improve mobility, manage pain and other chronic conditions, recover from injury, and prevent future injury and chronic disease. Here are the top running injuries and how a physical therapist can help:
1. Runner's knee
Approximately 40% of running injuries involve the knee, so it's no wonder runner's knee, or patellofemoral pain, is the top running injury. Runner's knee manifests as cartilage irritation under the patella, or kneecap, and is often caused by inward foot rolling during running, in combination with weak upper leg muscles. It can feel like an aching pain right around your kneecap and can be exacerbated by squatting movements as well as walking stairs, sitting, or standing.
Treating runner's knee. Treatment for runner's knee involves strengthening the upper leg and thigh muscles. Standing hamstring and quadriceps stretches, quadriceps sets, and straight-leg raises are a few exercises physical therapists will use to treat runner's knee. Learn more.
2. Achilles tendinopathy
Achilles tendinopathy is responsible for about 11% of all runners' injuries. The Achilles tendon attaches the heel to the 2 major calf muscles. Achilles tendinopathy is a tightening and irritation of the Achilles and is most often caused by weak calf muscles in runners who sprint and run hills.
Treating Achilles tendinopathy. The 3 goals of physical therapist treatment for Achilles injuries are pain relief, instilling proper movement, and building muscle strength and balance. The first line of treatment for Achilles tendinopathy is rest, ice, and often an anti-inflammatory medicine. Light stretching of the affected area, followed by strengthening exercises targeting the calf and Achilles area. Learn more.
3. Plantar fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is the most common running injury to the foot, affecting around 15% of runners. Put simply, it is caused by small tears and inflammation of the tendons connecting the heel to the ball of the foot. Plantar fasciitis will often feel like a bruise in the middle of your foot and can be most painful right when you get out of bed in the morning. Runners who have low arches or feet that roll inward or outward while running are most prone to this injury. Standing for long periods of time also can cause plantar fasciitis.
Treating plantar fasciitis. There is not a "quick-fix" for plantar fasciitis. A physical therapist treatment plan may include stretches for the ankle and plantar fascia, the use of a night splint to maintain proper ankle and toe positions and fitted footwear inserts. Learn more.
4. Shin splints
Running after an extended time off can cause "shin splints," or medial tibial stress syndrome. Shin splints are tears in the muscles that surround the shinbone or tibia. Repetitive jumping or running, excessive hip motion, a high body mass index, and a previous running injury are common risk factors of shin splints.
Treating shin splints. When shin splints occur, just like Achilles tendinopathy, rest and ice are the first course of action. A physical therapist treatment plan may include stretches targeting the affected muscles in the leg, calf, and foot, therapeutic massage, taping the foot to reduce load, and suggestions on proper and more supportive running shoes. Learn more.