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3 Tips To Avoid Common Running Injuries

three people running together

Race season is here! As a runner, you are already out there logging miles to train for upcoming races. Training season is also when Rahul Kapur, MD, CAQSM, a sports medicine physician at Penn Medicine, sees runners coming in with injuries. "The most common injuries are runner's knee, shin splints, stress fractures, and foot and ankle injuries," says Dr. Kapur.

Runner's Knee
The kneecap is rubbing against the other structures, not tracking properly when bending and straightening.

Shin Splints
Also called medial tibial stress syndrome, it's a pain in the front of the shin where the bone and muscle come together. This could be from inflammation or the prelude to a stress fracture.

Stress Fracture
A break in the lower leg bone, hip bone, knee bone, or any other important any bone necessary for running.

Foot And Ankle Injury
Any injury in the toes, arch, or tendons of the feet and ankles. The good news is most injuries are preventable; there are two factors runners need to keep in mind. "One is having good cardiovascular fitness," Dr. Kapur explains. "The other is being able to run properly. You don't want to get fatigued during the run and change the way you run. People tend to focus on pace and time, not on maintaining mechanics," he adds.

avoid running injuries

Here are three tips that can help runners pay more attention to mechanics and prevent one of the most common injuries.

Mix it up

Yes, your training schedule says you have to run this many miles these many days of the week. Too often, runners focus only on logging their miles instead of doing other types of exercise.

"Most top athletes don't just do their sport all the time," says Dr. Kapur, who did a half marathon last year and is also the team physician for students on the University of Pennsylvania track team. "They do other activities in the off season that help them do their sport better. Same thing for running."

If you want to avoid an injury, Kapur says mix in exercises to strengthen your core, hips, and quadriceps. These areas help stabilize the knee to avoid runner's knee and stress fractures. When any of these areas are weak, it can lead to imbalanced running, where you're compensating for weakness by putting stress on other areas.

Watch your mileage

"The magic number is 40 miles a week," Dr. Kapur says.

Some runners can double that and have no injures. Others can run less than that and be in pain. Still, runners who try to log more than 40 miles per week tend to be most at risk for injuries, especially stress fractures, he says.

Stress fractures stem from overusing a certain part of your body, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

The real problem with overdoing it on the mileage is that, if it leads to a stress fracture, you'll go from training for the race to just watching it on television. Stress fractures usually require a six- to-eight-week break from running, says AAOS.

Dr. Kapur says it's best to stay under 40 miles a week, but crosstrain — perhaps with biking or swimming — to maintain conditioning.

Remember: It's not that deep

So, what happens if you do get an injury?

"Sometimes, when you set a goal and you get close to it, you want to just power through it," Dr. Kapur says. "I understand. But if you're doing a practice run for five miles and having pain, why does running 26 miles make sense?"

This is about listening to your body and knowing when it's time to run or rest. That could mean tapering your running routine or sitting out until the next race.

"Most big cities have several races a year," Dr. Kapur says, who has loosely calculated the number of organized races held each year. "There are probably 1,100 marathons a year. That's an average of more than 20 races being run somewhere in the country every weekend."

So, if you have to pass on a race or training run before the big one this spring, "it's not a sense of failure, it's a sense of delayed gratification," he says.

Instead, use that time to focus on mechanics. Consider working with a running coach or trainer to evaluate how your gait, your stride, or weakness in other areas might have contributed to your injury.

Then, when you've recovered, lace up and cross the finish line injury-free.

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