It is almost inevitable that if you partake in any form of structured physical activity, you are bound to pick up some form of injury along the way. But what then? What do you do if you don’t have access to multiple health care providers and have excess expendable cash to use on consultations for every niggling injury.
That is why we thought it best to make it easy for you guys to identify the most common injuries experienced by runners and walkers alike. But that is not all! On top of helping you identify them we’re going to help you prevent them too!
For the list of the more common injuries we are going to go ahead and break them down into categories of acute and chronic respectively.
The Most Common Acute Walking and Running Injuries
As we previously mentioned, acute injuries are injuries that have a rapid onset of symptoms. These types of injuries do not occur time instead they happen quite suddenly.
1. Muscle Strains - More colloquially known as a muscle tear, muscle strains are one of the most common acute injuries experienced by people. These usually occur due to an imbalance between the load or force generated by the body and what the muscle can physically handle. This could be due to muscle weakness, deconditioning or muscular fatigue.
One the most common muscle strains are hamstring tears which may vary in severity between a light strain that can take up to two weeks to heal and usually does so without any external intervention. Or a complete tear of the hamstring muscle that is a very traumatic injury and more often than not requires surgical intervention and can take up to 6 months to heal.
2. Connective Tissue Sprains - Yes, we know that it sounds awfully similar to muscle strains and surely muscles are also a form of connective tissue. Which is correct and although people use the words interchangeably, there is a difference between a strain and a sprain. A strain as we mentioned above affects your muscle tissue, while a sprain affects connective tissues that attach directly onto bones. This list includes ligaments and tendons, and they are more often than not an acute injury as it usually takes quite a large force to cause a connective tissue sprain.
3. Compartment Syndrome - Okay, this injury isn’t as common as we would expect it to be, regardless we feel it deserves an honorable mention. In your lower limb, the area where your calf muscles are situated is made up of a compartment enclosed by a fascial sheath. But being enclosed, if the space in this area suddenly decreases and the pressure increases, that’s when you develop a condition called compartment syndrome.
This can be caused by both acute injuries such as a hematoma. Or by something slightly more chronic, such as a stress fracture (which we will cover in our next section). Either or, this is a very serious condition that if left untreated can lead to the amputation of the affected limb.
Most Common Chronic Walking and Running Injuries
Chronic injuries on the other hand aren’t that straightforward as they usually occur over a long period of time caused and compounded by one of many underlying causes. Chronic running and walking injuries are more often than not overuse injuries. And the list of most common overuse injuries include:
1. Plantar Fasciitis - The plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue fascia that runs from your lower down and attaches to your metatarsals (toe bones). Now plantar fasciitis is a chronic overuse injury that is characterized by the irritation of the fascia tissue as the area at the bottom of your foot becomes inflamed. This condition is caused by improper footwear or imbalances in your feet biomechanics such as overpronation. Additionally, deconditioned runners, overweight runners and runners just overdoing it in general can develop plantar fasciitis.
2. Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome - Sticking with overuse injuries, ITB friction syndrome is an overuse inflammatory condition that affects a connective tissue band that originates from the hip and attaches on the lateral aspect of the knee joint/tibia. This condition is more often than not caused by muscular imbalances of the lower body or pelvic instability/leg length discrepancies. It has a gradual onset with symptoms getting progressively worse as time passes on and no intervention is initiated.
3. Shin splints - Or as it is known in the clinical world, medial tibial stress syndrome or MTSS for short. Is an overuse, inflammatory condition that affects the lower limb of the body. Your limb consists of two bones, the tibia and fibula. These bones are connected by a connective sheath that essentially stops the bones from twisting and breaking. And it is this sheath that becomes inflamed and painful. Like all other chronic injuries, the exact cause of shin splints is usually a combination of underlying factors that manifest the symptoms over time. These factors include improper footwear, being overweight, over-training or increasing training loads disproportionately.
4. Stress fractures - are micro fractures in a bone. These fractures occur due to excessive loads on the bone causing the structural integrity of the bone to become compromised. These fractures develop over time, gradually becoming worse. In some cases a stress fracture can lead to a more serious acute condition.
If a bleed or hemorrhage develops as a result of a stress fracture in the lower limb, this can lead to acute compartment syndrome. Stress fractures are caused by overloading the bones or excessive high impact loading. A very serious and debilitating overuse injury that is difficult to diagnose and is usually too far along when it is finally diagnosed. Simply because, if you aren't looking for it, it is very difficult to find before it has significantly progressed.
5. Runner’s knee,
achilles tendinitis and all the other inflammatory conditions in between - Achilles tendinitis is an inflammatory overuse injury affecting your achilles tendon. Which is the lever tendon that attaches on your heel bone (talus). This condition is usually caused by tight calves of soleus muscles or compromised foot biomechanics such as excessive pronation or supination.
Runner’s knee on the other hand is not necessarily one single injury but rather a term used to describe a group of overuse injuries that affect the knee joint. Injuries such as anterior knee pain, patellar tendinitis, patellofemoral pain syndrome and chondromalacia patella are all overuse conditions that affect the knee joint at different areas but have similar and overlapping symptoms. Hence why the collective term runners knee is used.
Again, just like all other chronic injuries, these injuries are overuse of inflammatory conditions that develop over time and are caused by one or more underlying issues.
Our Top Tips on How to Prevent Running and Walking Injuries!
1. Know your limits! This cannot be overstated enough, over-training might seem like a badass thing to do and it might make for awesome water fountain talk in the office. But it really isn’t badass at all, in fact it’s just irresponsible. Your body will tell you when enough is enough so I suggest you start listening to it.
2. Doing too much too soon; sticking with the theme of over training, progressive overload is exactly that - it’s progressive! And progress takes time, you can’t skip steps and you definitely cannot force results by over-training. Come on guys and girls, just have a little patience, be consistent and the rest will all fall into place.
3. Warm up and cool down. Yes, I know we sound like a broken record but this might be the single most important tip on this list. Your body isn’t a microwave that can go from 0 to full power in split seconds. Your body is more like a racing car, you need to warm the engine up, take a couple of breaks in laps before you can push the pedal to metal.
And this goes for the cool down as well, you don’t just abruptly stop the car and leave it there. You gradually bring it to halt and do all your checks before you switch the engine off. And that is why an optimal cool down is vital!
4. Knowing HOW to warm up and HOW to cool down. As an add on to tip number 3, you need to know what to do for optimal performance and injury prevention. The rule of thumb is to incorporate a dynamic (movement based) warm up to prepare you for your walking or running session. And then you should lean on a more static and low impact mobility focused cool down, this will significantly aid in recovery.
5. Get to know your body. We tend to go through life slightly ignorant to what exactly our body is and how it works. Understanding your gait, foot biomechanics, underlying muscular imbalances and everything in between can greatly impact how you manage your body. And with improved management comes a decreased risk of injuries.
Our final thoughts
Ultimately, both running and walking are amazing forms of exercise. And by no means is this article meant to scare anyone away from them, but we still need to be clear that there are risks involved. Taking the time to understand what it means to be able to run or walk, will surely remind you that you are in fact in such a privileged position to be able to freely walk or run. It is a privilege that should not be taken for granted; so do your part and do it right. Trust me, it is an amazing world once you’ve figured out how to navigate it. See you on the road.