Running-Related Injury Causes and Prevention

Meme about running-related injuries with Marsha from the Brady Bunch t.v. show saying, "Sure Jan."
Meme about running-related injuries with Marsha from the Brady Bunch t.v. show saying, “Sure Jan.”

An injury may be a runner’s greatest enemy or fear and even a seemingly minor one can derail the most motivated among us. Luckily, you don’t have to be sidelined by shin splints, runner’s knee, or stress fractures. There are simple ways to prevent these common injuries.

Up to 50 percent of runners deal with some sort of injury every year. However, as most injuries occur from overuse, most are entirely avoidable by assessing form, creating training plans that build up the volume and intensity of your runs gradually, and finding your right stride. 

Most running injuries may be traced back to anatomical factors, form, and training error.

Common Injuries

Most running-related injuries affect the lower body, and the knee is the most common running injury victim, followed by the ankle and foot. When you run, the knee absorbs an incredible amount of weight (equal to 8-12 times your body weight) as it simultaneously provides movement. Isn’t the knee amazing when you think about what it does? For the ladies among us, protect your knees because some studies have found that women tend to have more knee injuries than men.

Lower back pain is very common for all of us, especially the older we get. Up to 70 percent of people experience it at some point, and it is mostly related to sedentary lifestyles. Although a lot of people are guilty of ignoring it, lower back pain deserves some attention, and may even require medical assessment. 

Back pain doesn’t stop at the back, so back off on running if you are experiencing back pain until you seek a professional opinion. Back pain can affect your core muscles, which can lead to other injuries when you run. 

The good news is that running has been shown to improve the health of intervertebral discs, so introducing and then gradually increasing running through sensible training may help with back issues. However, consult with a health professional before seeking to run when you are having back pain.


Most running injuries are a simple result of the toll running can take on the body, especially when you try to do too much too soon. Running consists of repeated impacts. Once gravity pulls us to the earth like in those old Wile E. Coyote cartoons but not quite as forceful, lol, our feet apply a force to the ground that creates an equal and opposite ground reaction force (GRF). 

Many injuries are a result of the GRF- its intensity as the body absorbs this force while it also stores and transfers as much energy as possible into repeating the motion of pushing back off the ground to propel the body forward. 

Aside from the GRF pressure, some studies have found a connection between injury and the braking force. 

As you run, braking refers to the foot that is landing in the stride coming down ahead of the hip. Some runners brake more than others. The best runners know how to reduce it, which gives them the benefit of maintaining momentum and speed.

Braking makes it difficult to keep the pace because it means you have to work harder just to keep going at the same rate. It also places more pressure on the body from the shock of the landing, which could contribute to an injury.

An ideal stride moves you forward with as little braking as possible. Over-striding leads to increased braking forces. There may have been a television show called, “Breaking Bad,” but we think a television show for runners should be called, “Braking Bad.” 

Since excessive braking means that your movements are less efficient,  this is how it can cause more stress to your shinbones, knees, hips, and lower back, leading to injuries.

One way that you may reduce both vertical and braking force is to increase cadence or step rate. If you increase your cadence, you can reduce your step length. This means that you land closer to your center of mass, which reduces vertical and braking forces, eases knee-joint loads, and other various benefits.

Focus on Form

Running form, which refers to how you move and position yourself while running, can influence your risk of injury. There are some anatomical factors that may be considered risk factors for injury, but as long as you build up to running gradually, you really limit the potential for injury.

Because form can make each of us more susceptible to certain injuries depending on our specific form, having an experienced coach assess your form is a good way to prevent injury.

Train to Sustain

One of the worst training mistakes consists of fluctuations in your training load. Running consists of the impact forces we previously mentioned, which can lead to a breakdown of tissue. Any breakdown of tissue requires time to heal. When you overdo it, your body’s repair process can’t keep up, which causes injury.

Runners are known for running through pain, but it is vital to recognize the difference between the normal discomfort associated with exertion and the pain of injury. If you feel pain that would rate greater than a three on a scale of one to ten with one being the lowest and ten the highest, (which would mean three is the low end of moderate), during or after a run, consult a medical professional. Another signal that a run won’t lead to fun is if your gait changes to accommodate pain.

Running as an activity, exercise or even lifestyle is simple, healthy, and natural. Most scientists believe that we evolved to run. With the recent shutdowns due to Covid-19, many more people are discovering how amazing it feels to run, but with new runners, new injuries can occur. 

Sudden increases in training intensity are the main cause of injury. Both the volume and the intensity of your runs affect the toll it takes on your body. New runners should start slow, and even experienced runners should seek to progress in a gradual and natural way that doesn’t strain your body too much.

A structured training plan can prevent injuries. Since most injuries are due to overtraining, a training plan allows for intensity to be scheduled as well as scheduled time for recovery and rest to allow your body to adapt to the stresses of training.

Following a training program is also an awesome source of motivation. Your program can be tailored with a goal in mind, it monitors progress and makes improvements more obvious, which are all great motivators.

Trained runners have a higher pain tolerance for the natural pain that coincides with exertion, so it pays to train, especially if you intend to run races.

We recently posted about shoes, so we also wanted to warn you that abrupt changes to the cushioning or heel can result in injuries. 

Whenever you think of running, think gradual, whether you are looking to accomplish a goal, increase speed or endurance, lose weight, or even if you are simply adjusting to new shoes.

For more information or to seek advice from an experienced coach, contact us at Personal Running Solutions.

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