10 Tips for Avoiding Shin Splints, Runner's Knee and Other Common Injuries
10 Tips for Avoiding Shin Splints, Runner's Knee, and Other Common Injuries
by Rachel Keller
No one likes to face injury, but runners especially seem prone to injuries. And it's no wonder since a runner's feet strike the ground anywhere from 800 to 2,000 times a mile, at a force of about three to five times his body weight. Here are ten tips for avoiding several common injuries.
No one likes to face injury, but runners especially seem prone to injuries. And it's no wonder since a runner's feet strike the ground anywhere from 800 to 2,000 times a mile, at a force of about three to five times his body weight. I have been fortunate in that I've remained relatively injury free, but I have had experience with injury: an ankle sprain, knee discomfort, hip pain, and fatigue from overtraining. Other than the sprain, most of my injuries were minor. A couple days of rest, chiropractic care, and stretching helped me recover from my aches.
However, I know many other runners and nonrunners who constantly face injury and pain. While many listen to their body and back off, others ignore the pain and keep pushing to a higher level--a new personal record or goal. While some injuries are unavoidable, others are preventable.
The most common injuries runners face are shin splints, runner's knee, plantar fascitis, and inflammation of the iliotibial band (known as Iliotibial band syndrome or ITBS). Shin splints occur as pain or soreness in the shin region. They can sometimes lead to stress fractures. Runner's knee is an aching soreness around or under the knee. An inflammation of the connective tissue along the sole and its attachment to the heel bone is plantar fascitis. ITBS is an inflammation on the outside of the knee joint, which begins as an ache but can progress to a painful burning sensation.
Here are ten tips for avoiding these and other injuries:
1. Invest in good quality running shoes for your foot type. You are setting yourself up for injury if you don't have the right shoes or if you fail to retire your shoes after 300-500 miles. I made the mistake of buying "cheap" running shoes. It didn't take me long to realize I needed better shoes. I went to a specialty running store where I received expert advice. Now, I will never run in anything but quality running shoes. For more information about getting the proper shoe, check out If the Shoe Fits.
2. Be careful about increasing your workout or mileage too much too soon. If you're overtraining, you risk injury. (My brother has suffered from shin splints for this reason.) The general rule is that you should not increase your mileage by more than 10% weekly. Also your long run should be no more than 50% greater than your longest run in the week. If your second longest run in the week is 5 miles, then your long run should not exceed 10 miles.
3. If you're a beginning runner, avoid difficult and hard runs. As a general rule, you should wait until you've been running about a year and have built your mileage to about 20 miles weekly before attempting hills and speed training. That doesn't mean you should never run hills. Where I live, I'm surrounded by hills, so when I started running, I had little choice but to run hills, but I have had knee discomfort after increasing my mileage too quickly and running too many hills too fast. Be careful when running hills--especially going downhill--that you maintain control. (See Hill Running With an Attitude for more information.)
4. Take a day or two of rest. I exercise six days a week, but I only run three (sometimes four days a week). By incorporating a day of rest and cross training, you lessen your chance of injury. I cycle and participate in aerobics on my nonrunning days. I love running, but I don't want to risk all those injuries that many runners face. Often, once you suffer injuries, your body is more susceptible to those same injuries. Yes, there are runners who run every day and have no problems, but I don't want to take that chance.
5. Run slower and on softer surfaces. Concrete is the hardest surface and provides little shock absorption. Roads paved with asphalt are better. Cinder tracks are the most resilient. If I have the choice between sidewalks and the streets, I choose the street as long as it's safe. When I run along a four-lane highway I choose the sidewalk. To not run there would be sheer foolishness.
6. Watch the camber on streets. The middle of the road is the best part to run on, but it is also unsafe. Some roads have very steep camber, so avoid running on the edge of those roads. If it's not a busy road, you can run more on the road, or else try running off the road. When running off the road, be careful of holes or loose stones you may slip on, or any other hazardous situations. Don't run with your head down all the time, but be aware of what's underfoot. (I suffered a sprained ankle when I first started running because I slipped on wet grass going downhill and twisted my ankle after falling into a little hole.)
7. Stretch both before and after your workup, but warm up a little before stretching. Walk or jog an easy mile, stretch and then run your course. Don't forget to stretch at the end of your run after you cool down. If you fail to adequately cool down and stretch after a workout, and especially after a race, your muscles will tighten and you will be stiff and sore the next day. To prevent this walk or jog slowly and then stretch. The longer your run or the harder your race, the longer you need to cool down afterwards. I usually plan the last mile or 5-10 minutes as an easy jog and then I walk for a few minutes. After a race, I walk/jog for at least 10-15 minutes.
8. Do strength training exercises for the lower and upper body. Lunges and squats, when executed properly, are great leg strengtheners.
9. Also, watch your running form. Not only does that help to prevent injuries, but it also helps you run more efficiently. To maintain proper posture and efficiency, hold your head high. Relax and avoid tensing your muscles. If your body is aligned properly, your feet will land on a line directly in front of you. Be aware of your arm movements. Keep your arms bent at about 90 degrees. Dangling them or holding them to your chest will cause a loss of power in your stride. They should move forward and backward with the opposite leg, your hands brushing your hips.
10. Listen to your body. While some muscle aches or discomforts are to be expected when you push yourself, pain is not. Pain is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong. If you continue exercising through pain, you risk injury. And if you have an injury, take some time off. You risk more damage and your recovery will take longer if you don't!
I twisted my ankle once when I tripped in a hole. My ankle felt a little funny, but I could still run. After running another mile, I knew something was wrong. I stopped, but the damage had already been done. The next few weeks, a sprained ankle prevented me from running, doing aerobics and weight training. Then, I had to gradually build my strength back in my ankle before I could resume my regular activities.
Copyright 2001 Rachel Keller