Recreational running injuries

This page is written by our physiotherapist Wendy Benwell, who gives an overview on injuries and recreational runners.  

Many recreational runners assume that running will make their bodies stronger. My response is that you need appropriate muscle strength in specific muscle groups in order to run effectively and efficiently.  A specific strengthening and stretching routine for the main muscle groups involved in running is important in order to decrease the rate of injury and improve running performance.  Every runner is different, so an appropriate screening from a physiotherapist to assess muscle strength and flexibility prior to a running program is crucial.

The most common injuries I see are tibial stress syndrome (shin splints), plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinopathy, patellofemoral dysfunction (anterior knee pain) and ITB friction syndrome. Most injuries are due to overuse, poor training habits, and improper strength/flexibility. Most injuries can be prevented with an effective and efficient strengthening/stretching routine and an organized running program during season.

Flexibility is important for effective range of motion and efficient biomechanics during running.  The most important muscle groups to stretch for running biomechanics are the calf (gastrocnemius/soleus), hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings and piriformis. Appropriate stretching for each muscle group for approximately one minute after a run will help to improve flexibility, decrease muscle soreness and aid in recovery.  Two to three days a week of strengthening will be effective for increasing strength and endurance. Strengthening is important for specific muscle groups for the support of joints and efficient form during running.  The most important muscle groups to strengthen for efficient and effective running biomechanics are the gluteus muscles, hamstrings, quads and abdominals. Strengthening exercises that encompass multiple muscle groups at the same time are most efficient.  Single leg squats, lunges, and side stepping with resistance applied to the ankles with tubing are all excellent exercises that target multiple muscle groups at one time.  The runner should progress to 20-30 repetitions of each exercise in order to establish strength and endurance, especially in preparation for long runs.

An organized running plan from a certified triathlon or a running coach will also help to decrease the amount of injuries and improve efficiency during season.  Design a running program that includes one long run, one medium distance tempo run and a few short runs that includes hills or intervals. Cross training during the off days and one recovery/rest day per week is also very important. Runners should listen to their bodies and seek advice from a qualified health care professional if pain persists.  Focus on the goal of lifetime pain-free running by being strong and flexible for the long haul.

Dr. Wendy Wilkins, PT, DPT

USA triathlon coach level I