9 Common Causes of Running Injuries

I found that injuries were more the rule than the exception. In fact, when I attempted my first marathon in 1992, I developed a stress fracture and had to throw in the running shoes for another time.

Some injuries are minor and can be managed with physical therapy, ice and/or stretching. Others stop us in our tracks. Some injuries are beyond our control – due to body type, running form and/or athletic history. Some can be prevented. Today is Part I of a two part series on injuries in which I’ll share some common causes of running injuries. In Part II, I’ll share some thoughts on how to prevent them.

Building miles too quickly.

Over the many years I’ve run, this has been on of the most common culprits of injury as cited from friends and acquaintances. If we’re training for an endurance event, we often feel “behind” in our schedule, less conditioned than a runner partner, or possibly overzealous in our quest to run 26 miles. Whatever the reason, we feel the need to ‘catch up’ by running too much. It’s important to stick with the 10% rule: increase your mileage no more than 10% over the previous week. And though some experts might disagree, I also believe in building the length of long runs no more than 10% per week, or 2-3 miles if the distances are crawling into the teens.

Too much running.

According to Running Advisor, overuse is the #1 cause of running injuries. It’s also the reason I reduced my running schedule from 6 days/week running schedule to a 3 days/week. (That and the fact that I’m getting too old to run every day!) Overuse injuries are just as common to a veteran runner as a first-time marathoner, and in fact, maybe more so. It’s easy to run too often, too far and/or too fast – so stay in tuned to your body and your schedule, and avoid this pain.

Getting out of the gates too fast.

This has never been a huge problem for me, as I generally need a few miles to assimilate to the act of running – whether it’s a race or 6-mile jaunt. In fact, early in the morning, it takes me quite a while to wake up! I often laugh at my husband, who takes off for a 3-mile jog around the block like our house is one fire. Until he developed a chronic calf injury, he never thought a warm-up was necessary. According to the blog 3 Fat Chicks on a Diet!, there are four benefits to warming up before a workout. These include: improved elasticity and flexibility of your muscles, increased circulation of blood throughout your body, decreased muscle fatigue, and greater muscle control. So stop and smell the roses, and slow down at the start!

Back-to-back “killer” workouts.

And by killer workouts, I mean speed workouts, tempo runs, hill runs and long runs. You know the ones – those that put extra duress on the body. After these high intensity, high-stress workouts, you deserve a break – or at least some cross training – the day after. Give your body some time to recover and limit its susceptibility to injury, too. Not to mention, you will better protect your immune system, and (hopefully!) avoid the dreaded cold or flu bug in the middle of your training schedule. This has happened to me more times than I’d like to count.

Pounding hard surfaces too often.

A person’s running form – and in particular how their feet strike a surface – certainly influences propensity for injury. But too much of a bad running surface could influence it as well. And according to Runner’s World, not all surfaces are created equal. They, in fact, ranked the top ten running surfaces as follows (starting with the best):

1)  grass

2) woodland trails

3) bare earth

4) cinder paths

5) synthetic tracks

6) treadmills

7) asphalt

8) sand

9) concrete

10) snow.

Many of my friends who can’t complete a mile on asphalt, thanks to bad knees, can run for miles along wooded trails. Softer surfaces can be more forgiving, so give it a try if your knees are screaming.

Running on slanted surfaces.

If, like most of the universe, you’re not privy to running along wooded trails or grassy paths every day, you probably spend a fair bit of time on asphalt roads. As such, you may have a preference for a particular side of the road on which you choose to run. For me, it’s the left side of the road – I like to see oncoming traffic and move out of the way if I need to do so. But running on the same side of the road for too many miles can cause one foot to roll out and the other one to roll inward. If carried out repeatedly, this can cause problems. Try to break it up as best as possible, and during a race, particularly a marathon, switch sides every now and then to keep the aches at bay (as best as possible, that is!).

Too many long runs.

There’s great debate about how many long runs are ideal for marathon training, not to mention the actual length of the long runs. New research by CrossFit Endurance suggests that that the adaptations caused by anaerobic training are similar to high volume endurance training. Hence, they say, you may never need to train much further than the 90-minute mark if you are working hard enough. Even if you don’t subscribe to this theory, there is a point at which the incremental number of long runs (18+) you incorporate into your training carries more risk for injury than benefit of conditioning.

Wearing a shoe that “don’t fit.”

There is a good reason why Nike has made money at sports beyond running. Soccer, basketball, tennis and running, among others, require different movements, surfaces and needs for protection. Unless you make a conscious decision to run barefoot or wear a minimalist shoe, my recommendation is to cushion your feet properly for the sport of running. And after you have worn those shoes for 500 miles, throw them out.

“Improper” running form.

According to a June article in Runner’s World, there is still not adequate evidence that a midfoot or forefoot strike reduces a runner’s impact loading rate, thus reducing injury. But if you strike the ground heel first and you are prone to injury, it might not be a bad idea to have a physical therapist check out your form and suggest ways to improve it. Tricia Minnick figured this out for herself by buying a pair of minimalist shoes and “feeling” the impact of her heel hitting the pavement. Through minor tweaks, she has adjusted her stride and hopes to work up to a pain-free marathon.

Melinda Hinson