The 5 Most Common Running Injuries

The 5 Most Common Running Injuries

Running is a high impact activity that places an incredible amount of stress on the musculoskeletal system. So much so, that close to 75% of runners suffer an injury each year (2). Not surprisingly, the most common running injuries affect the knees, ankles, and feet (3,5,9). Checkout this list of the five most common running injuries to see if one of these ailments is preventing you from living a Strong, Healthy, and Happy life.


Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) is the most common overuse injury amongst runners and causes anterior knee pain (front of the knee around the kneecap)(9). Repetitive flexion and extension of the knee during running causes irritation and inflamation of the tendons connected to the patella (kneecap) and the fatty tissue between the patella and the knee joint. Another cause of PFPS is patellar maltracking, an alignment issue that forces the patella out of its normal position as it glides against the femur (7). Symptoms may be brought on by physical activities that repetitively bend the knee or sitting with the knee bent for extended periods of time.


The iliotibial band, commonly referred to as the IT band or ITB, is a dense band of connective tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh. It attaches at the hip and the shin bone, just below the knee joint (4), and works to stabilize the hip and knee during physical activity. ITB syndrome is the second most common overuse injury among runners behind patellofemoral pain syndrome and is the most common cause of lateral knee pain (9). Patients typically report a sharp, burning pain on the outside of the knee while flexing and extending the knee joint during physical activity (4). Usually recreational athletes are pain-free at the beginning of the run, but the pain begins predictably after about 5 to 10 minutes. Some debate exists as to why the ITB becomes irritated, either because the ITB is repetitively sliding over the outside of the knee as it bends and straightens (friction theory) or fat that contains nerves is being compressed beneath the ITB tract (compression theory) (4).


Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain and third most common running injury (9). It occurs when the band of tissue on the bottom of the foot, called the plantar fascia, becomes inflamed, which can result from the repetitive stress that running places on the tissue. Additional factors which increase the risk for developing plantar fasciitis include limited ankle dorsiflexion and excessive pronation, being overweight, and standing at work all day (8). Pain is usually worse after a long period of rest, such as when getting out of the bed in the morning.


The meniscus is a rubbery tissue that sits along the top of the tibia and acts as an important shock absorber and stabilizer for the knee. Meniscus tears are one of the most common knee injuries and are frequently observed following an acute sports injury to the knee joint (e.g. an ACL tear). However, meniscus tears are also common in knees without a history of acute injury due to normal degenerative changes of the tissue over time, and are the fourth most common injury in runners (9). Meniscal injuries are particularly concerning because a damaged meniscus loses some of its load bearing properties, which can cause increased loading of the articular cartilage and development of osteoarthritis (1). Common symptoms include pain, stiffness, and the knee joint feeling locked.


Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS), or as it’s more commonly described, shin splints, is a prevalent injury amongst runners that causes pain along the tibia (shin bone) both during and after physical activity. In fact, one study reported MTSS to be the most common running injury (3), and is consistently in the top 5 (9). The source of the pain is debated, but inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and other tissues which surround the tibia, and even the bone itself, are believed to be involved (6).

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  1. Christoforakis, J., Pradhan, R., Sanchez-Ballester, J., Hunt, N. and Strachan, R.K., 2005. Is there an association between articular cartilage changes and degenerative meniscus tears?. Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery, 21(11), pp.1366-1369.
  2. Daoud, A.I., Geissler, G.J., Wang, F., Saretsky, J., Daoud, Y.A. and Lieberman, D.E., 2012. Foot strike and injury rates in endurance runners: a retrospective study. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 44(7), pp.1325-34.
  3. DIAS LOPES, A., HESPANHOL JUNIOR, L.C., YEUNG, S.S. and PENA COSTA, L.O., 2012. What are the Main Running-Related Musculoskeletal Injuries?: A Systematic Review. Sports medicine, 42(10), pp.891-905.
  4. Fairclough, J., Hayashi, K., Toumi, H., Lyons, K., Bydder, G., Phillips, N., Best, T.M. and Benjamin, M., 2006. The functional anatomy of the iliotibial band during flexion and extension of the knee: implications for understanding iliotibial band syndrome. Journal of Anatomy, 208(3), pp.309-316.
  5. Fredericson, M. and Misra, A.K., 2007. Epidemiology and aetiology of marathon running injuries. Sports Medicine, 37(4-5), pp.437-439.
  6. Newman, P., Witchalls, J., Waddington, G. and Adams, R., 2013. Risk factors associated with medial tibial stress syndrome in runners: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Open Access J Sports Med, 4, pp.229-41.
  7. Petersen, W., Ellermann, A., Gösele-Koppenburg, A., Best, R., Rembitzki, I.V., Brüggemann, G.P. and Liebau, C., 2014. Patellofemoral pain syndrome.Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc, 22, pp.2264-2274.
  8. Riddle, D.L., Pulisic, M., Pidcoe, P. and Johnson, R.E., 2003. Risk factors for plantar fasciitis: a matched case-control study. J Bone Joint Surg Am, 85(5), pp.872-877.
  9. Taunton, J.E., Ryan, M.B., Clement, D.B., McKenzie, D.C., Lloyd-Smith, D.R. and Zumbo, B.D., 2002. A retrospective case-control analysis of 2002 running injuries. British journal of sports medicine, 36(2), pp.95-101.