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Tips to Prevent 5 Common Running Injuries

02/09/2015 04:02 pm ET | Updated Apr 11, 2015
Christopher Futcher via Getty Images

Running a marathon is a great accomplishment, but it can be daunting, especially if you've never ran one before. You'll definitely have to train before you run a marathon, but there are some other factors you'll want to consider to get yourself ready. Running can result in injury to the feet, ankles, shins, knees, and spine. Being able to recognize these injuries and taking some preventative measures is vital for the serious runner, as well as weekend warrior.

Most runners I treat are highly driven, keenly focussed to attain pre-determined training goals. They are disciplined, regimented, and often successful in their professional life -- as well as -- in sport. The same mindset that breeds success in running is often dichotomous with injury. Compulsivity plus injury equals a challenging equation for both athlete and physician. Addressing this with athletes is a delicate balance. Education is critical for not only validating their doubts but also strengthening one's alliance with the athlete and the compliance with training alterations.

Common Running Injuries

1. ACHILLES TENDONITIS

The Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the back of the heel, takes on a lot of stress when running. If stressed too much, the tendon can tighten up and develop micro tears. Symptoms of Achilles tendonitis include pain and stiffness in the tendon that worsens with activity and swelling. Bone spurs may also be present, which can rub against the tendon, further irritating it. If you feel a "popping" sensation in the area, seek medical attention immediately -- the tendon may have torn.

In choosing a shoe, opt for cushioned insoles that have been shown to reduce the incidence of this injury. If you are a regular runner, keep in mind that running shoes lose 60 percent of their shock absorption after 250 to 500 miles of use, so you'll want to replace your running shoes after that point. Don't run the marathon in brand-new shoes (stating the obvious here -- but I've seen it).

2. RUNNER'S KNEE

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, more commonly known as "runner's knee," affects the cartilage under the kneecap. If you have runner's knee, you may feel a dull, aching type of pain under or in front of the kneecap in the area where it connects with the end of the thighbone. You may feel this pain more when walking up and down stairs, kneeling, squatting, or after a long run.

As with any athletic activity, warming-up followed by stretching is crucial before you run. Running with tight, cold muscles increases your chances of injury, so you should never skip it. After you've finished running, you should also stretch to prevent any muscle tightness afterward. Focus on stretching the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and lower back in particular.

3. SPINAL DISC DAMAGE

For every 20 minutes of running, you can lose as much as 6 to 12 ounces of fluid. You'll need to drink water often to replace the water your body is losing. Dehydration can make you feel weak and dizzy, and it can also cause disc damage in our spines. Sketch out the distance between each water station for the marathon, and aim to drink at the same intervals when training.

The repetitive impact of running can put a great deal of stress on the spine. The discs, which act as shock absorbers in the spine, require H20 to function in their normal state. If you already have a disc injury, running can worsen the symptoms. Pain could be the result of degenerative disc disease, which can be caused by wear and tear to the spine, or a herniated disc, which can put pressure on the nerves and cause pain that radiates from the lower back down to the legs.

4. SHIN SPLINTS

Training indoors during the winter? You may want to check out "Why Shin Splints Soar in April" published in LiveScience.com about seeing an escalation in this injury in springtime. Medial tibial stress syndrome, often called shin splints, happens when small tears occur in the muscles around the shin bone. Shin splints often cause an achy pain and are common among new runners or those returning to running after a lengthy break. If you suffer from shin splints, it is a sign that you are overdoing it and need to back off a bit. It's better to start with a half-marathon first if you've never run a marathon before. It gives you a chance to try it out and see how far you have to go with your training to participate in a full marathon. If the half-marathon is an unattainable challenge, stay positive and continue to work up to your goals!

5. OVER-TRAINING AND STRESS FRACTURES

Over-training is not advised. Your muscles need time to heal themselves, and your body needs to recover. You shouldn't be running every single day -- give yourself at least one rest day a week to avoid burnout and fatigue. Also, when you are running long distances, you won't want to run at full pace the whole time, or you'll wear yourself out.

Stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bone that can result from over-training. If the muscles are overworked and can no longer absorb extra shock, the bones take on some of the stress, resulting in a stress fracture. For runners, stress fractures are common in the shins, feet, and heels. If you have a stress fracture, you may experience pain that worsens with activity, but decreases upon rest. Swelling and tenderness at the site are also common.

Running a marathon is a great goal to aspire to, especially if you want to get into a healthier lifestyle. Follow these tips to help prevent injuries so you can stay on target with your training and successfully complete the marathon. Happy Trails!

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