Written by Molly Pilcher – Athletic Trainer
It’s April and Track and Field season is officially underway. Along with crazy weather changes and long nights come many different running injuries. Being a collegiate track athlete myself, I have personally experienced the ups and downs of injured life. Coming to terms with an injury takes time. It not only takes a toll on you physically but also mentally. During my college career I had countless surgeries and spent the majority of my time in physical therapy. Many people don’t understand that when you’re taken away from the sport you love and your team, it makes the going get tough.
Going from being a collegiate track athlete to becoming a graduate assistant for Northern Iowa’s track and field team I have seen my fair share of running injuries. Some of the most common running injuries include: shin splints, stress fractures, hamstring strains, IT Band pain, hip flexor tightness, and plantar fasciitis. There are many factors that can contribute to running injuries and they can be easily corrected if caught early enough.
The most common running injury I see on a daily basis is Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS) or more commonly known as shin splints. Shin splints are one of the most annoying and nagging injuries a person can have. The common misconception about shin splints is that people believe it’s the muscle pulling away from the bone (tibia). In all reality it is a breakdown of the tibia from repetitive stress aka running.
Another common injury seen in track and field athletes is hamstring strains. Second to shin splints, hamstring injuries are one of the most annoying injuries there is. In graduate school I dedicated my research to trying to figure out hamstrings and why they are so difficult to fix. I found there are many factors that go into why a runner “pulls” their hamstring. Now the hamstring is composed of three muscles on the back of the thigh that all insert on the pelvis. When the hamstring muscles are tight it leads to decreased flexibility and therefore a higher risk of injuring that leg.
Hip flexor tightness is an injury that I have seen much more this year than in years past. The hip flexors are a catch all term for all the muscles that help you flex your hip. This injury is common in running because a person is constantly flexing their hip. And over time this leads to a breakdown and eventually pain in that area.
A common injury seen in distance runners is IT Band Syndrome. The IT Band sits on the outside of your thigh and runs from your hip to knee. Many times pain is experienced when a runner flexes their hip and often knee. As the mileage is accrued the IT Band begins to breakdown and runners start to have pain. This is when the foam roller becomes your best friend.
The last injury I hate to see in runners is stress fractures. Most commonly stress fractures are seen in the tibia and foot. Many times stress fractures are confused with shin splits or other pain. The easiest way to differentiate stress fractures from various injuries is that the pain is localized to one spot and generally hurts all the time especially at night. When a stress fracture is suspected a doctor generally gets involved and much time is taken off from running.
There are many preventative measures that can be taken to prevent the risk of these injuries. First athletes should be wearing good shoe wear. A good pair of shoes with arch support and cushion is a must for runners. Second increasing your flexibility will help you in many ways. Taking the time prior and following running will help you reduce the risk of injury. Another preventative measure is alternating your running surfaces. Try to stay away from running on cement everyday. Switch it up. Cross training a day or two a week will also benefit you in the long run!