5 Common Running Foot Injuries & How to Prevent Them

Running is a popular form of exercise that offers numerous health benefits, including cardiovascular fitness, weight management, and mental well-being. However, the repetitive impact and strain on the feet can lead to various injuries, especially among avid runners. Understanding the most common foot injuries and their causes is crucial for prevention and effective treatment. Here are five common running foot injuries.

  1. Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common running foot injuries. It involves inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot, connecting the heel bone to the toes. The primary symptom is a stabbing pain in the heel. This hallmark symptom usually comes with the first steps in the morning, or after long periods of rest.

Causes and Risk Factors:

    • Overuse: Excessive running, especially on hard surfaces, can strain the plantar fascia.
    • Improper Footwear: examples would be shoes with inadequate arch support or cushioning can exacerbate the condition.
    • Biomechanical Issues: Flat feet, tightness/weakness or imbalance of muscles around the foot and ankle, high arches, or abnormal walking patterns can contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis.

Prevention and Treatment:

    • Evaluation of the foot and calf muscles to see if there is an imbalance, and potentially recommend mobility and/or strengthening exercises.
    • Evaluation of arches/foot to see what kind of footwear can be beneficial, or if any sort of orthotic or insert is indicated.
    • Anti-inflammatories may also help to alleviate pain and inflammation.
  1. Achilles Tendinitis

Achilles tendinitis is the inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Patients may experience pain, swelling, and stiffness along the back of the leg near the heel with these types of common running foot injuries.

Causes and Risk Factors:

    • Sudden increase in training intensity or duration.
    • Tight calf muscles or poor flexibility.
    • Running on hilly terrain or uneven surfaces.

Prevention and Treatment:

    • Gradually increasing running intensity.
    • Regular stretching and strengthening of the calf muscles.
    • Proper footwear with wide toe box and good heel support.
    • Rest, ice (after activity).
  1. Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are small cracks in the bones, often occurring in the weight-bearing bones of the foot such as the metatarsals. Due to repetitive force and impact this can be one of the worst common foot problems for runners.

Causes and Risk Factors:

    • Overtraining and repetitive high-impact activities.
    • Sudden changes in running intensity or volume.
    • Poor bone density or underlying conditions like osteoporosis.
    • Inadequate nutrition, particularly low calcium and vitamin D intake.

Prevention and Treatment:

    • Gradual increase in training load.
    • Incorporating cross-training and low-impact exercises.
    • Ensuring a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
    • Proper footwear that does not over-constrict the foot.
    • Adequate rest and immobilization if a fracture is diagnosed.
  1. Shin Splints

Shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, refer to pain along the inner edge of the shinbone (tibia). This injury is common and can severely impact training.

Causes and Risk Factors:

    • Overuse and repetitive stress on the shinbone and surrounding tissues.
    • Running on hard surfaces or uneven terrain.
    • Poor footwear and improper running technique.
    • Weakness in the surrounding muscles.

Prevention and Treatment:

    • Gradual build-up of running mileage.
    • Using supportive and well-cushioned shoes.
    • Strengthening and stretching exercises for the lower leg muscles.
    • Rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications.
  1. Metatarsalgia

Metatarsalgia involves pain and inflammation in the ball of the foot, affecting the metatarsal bones. Runners often experience a sharp, aching, or burning pain that worsens with activity with common running foot injuries such as metatarsalgia.

Causes and Risk Factors:

    • High-impact activities and excessive running.
    • Poorly fitting shoes that lack adequate forefoot cushioning.
    • Biomechanical abnormalities like high arches or a long second toe.
    • Excess body weight adding pressure on the forefoot.

Prevention and Treatment:

    • Wearing shoes with appropriate cushioning and arch support.
    • Using metatarsal pads to offload pressure from the metatarsal heads.
    • Reducing running mileage and incorporating rest days.
    • Strengthening exercises for the foot muscles.

While running is an excellent form of exercise, it comes with the risk of foot injuries due to the repetitive impact and strain placed on the lower extremities. Plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, stress fractures, shin splints, and metatarsalgia are among the most common injuries faced by runners. Preventive measures such as proper footwear, gradual increase in training intensity, and regular stretching and strengthening exercises are crucial. For those experiencing these injuries, appropriate medical consultation and treatments can aid in recovery and help prevent future occurrences. By taking these precautions, runners can continue to enjoy their sport while minimizing the risk of some of these common running foot injuries.

About the Author

Dr. Cody Gioia – Dr. Cody Gioia completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Rehabilitation Science and Pathokinesiology. After college, he worked in a multi-disciplinary rehabilitation facility for nearly two years before he went on to earn his doctorate at New York Chiropractic College in December of 2017. Prior to joining the team at 919 Spine, Dr. Gioia worked as an Associate Doctor in a family practice in Northern Virginia.

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Dr. Gioia believes in treating all of his patients with individualized, evidence-based care. He utilizes a variety of skills such as spinal manipulation, functional soft tissue techniques, dry needling, and athletic taping to optimize function and improve overall performance in each of his patients.

Interested in learning more about injury prevention for runners? Be sure to check out the Medical Corner of our site.