You’re out running on your favorite trail, on a warm day with the sun shining, birds chirping, a light breeze, and the smell of summer in the air. So far, everything about your run is perfect. But then, you feel an unusual burn in your heel. Or a discomforting pull of your hamstrings just behind your knee. You might even misstep and roll an ankle. Running, like any other sport, has its fair share of injuries associated with it.
Here is a list of some of the most common running injuries1,2, what they feel like, and why they may occur.
The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue running from the bottom of your heel to the base of your toes. With plantar fasciitis, you may feel pain in your heel or bottom of your foot when your foot hits the ground or when your foot pushes off to propel yourself forward.
The patellar tendon is where the quadriceps, or thigh muscle, attaches to the front of your upper shin. This is the tendon the doctor hits with his hammer to make your knee jerk. Tendinopathy occurs when a tendon starts to break down because it is too weak to tolerate the demand placed upon it when running. You may feel pain in this area when your leg lands on the ground.
Most hamstring injuries associated with distance running are “overuse” injuries, meaning the muscle is irritated because it is too weak and is unable to tolerate the demand placed on it by running. A hamstring tear will feel like a sharp pain in the back of your thigh and you will be unable to sprint or push off the ground with that leg. With hamstring tendinopathy, you will feel a dull irritation behind your knee or up higher by the glutes right after you swing that leg forward, just before your foot hits the ground.
The IT band is a thick band of connective tissue runs along the outside of your leg from the hip to the knee and shinbone. You might feel a dull pain on the outside of your knee when swinging your leg forward.
Shin splints may cause you to feel an ache in the inside of your shins and/or ankle. This is caused by irritation of the posterior tibialis muscle and/or tendon due to over-pronation and poor ankle and foot strength/stability.
Ever “roll” your ankle? An ankle sprain occurs when the foot rolls, in most cases, inwards and damages the ligaments on the outside of your foot, where you’re most likely to feel pain. This is often caused by poor ankle stability when running on rugged terrain.
Achilles’ tendinopathy occurs when the tendon of your calf muscle gets irritated. You may feel pain under or at your heel or along the lower part of your calf when landing or pushing off the ground. This is often due to gastrocnemius and soleus muscle weakness, meaning they are not strong enough to adequately absorb impact without becoming strained.
This injury might feel like pain under or around the kneecap caused by over-compression of the kneecap on the femur. This pain is often worse with climbing hills and stairs or with sitting for long periods of time.
This will feel like a dull ache in the upper part of the front of your thigh when raising your leg up during the beginning of your leg swing. This could be due to running with too much of an upright posture, excessive arching of the low back, or with over striding.
If you sustain a Tibial Stress Fracture, you’re likely to feel deep, poorly localized pain along your shinbone that increases with impact or hopping. This is usually caused by a sudden increase in training volume, intensity, and frequency
Many of these issues stem from similar sources like over striding, muscle tightness, hip weakness, poor ankle/foot stability and strength, excessive heel strike, improper footwear/foot pronation, or a sudden jump in mileage, frequency, or intensity of runs. Many of these injuries can be treated with targeted stretching and strengthening exercises, wearing the right shoes, and shortening the stride. It is also suggested to follow the “10% Rule” to prevent overtraining–only increase mileage by 10% per week in order to allow the body to adapt to the increases in exercise volume without breaking down.
Running just isn’t as enjoyable when it is painful. If you feel like you have any of the aches and pains above, schedule a free assessment. A free assessment by a licensed physical therapist can help provide peace of mind and get your recovery process started before an injury worsens. Free assessments are available in-clinic and online through our telehealth platform.
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Arnold MJ, Moody AL. “Common Running Injuries: Evaluation and Management.” Am Fam Physician, 15;97(8), April 2018, pp. 510-516.
2. Lopes AD, Hespanhol LC, Yeung SS, Pena Costa LO. “What Are the Main Running-Related Musculoskeletal Injuries? A Systematic Review.” Sports Med, 1;42(10), October 2012, pp. 891-905.