5 Common Running and Walking Injuries

Both running and walking are simple ways to get a great cardiovascular workout with no equipment beyond a sturdy pair of athletic shoes. But these common activities can lead to pain and injury if you're not careful. Here are five of the most common issues suffered by runners and walkers, how to prevent them and how to soothe the pain they can cause.
ITB Syndrome
What is ITB syndrome?
The Iliotibial Band (ITB or IT Band) is the thick band of fibrous tissue (fascia) that runs on the lateral side of your leg from your hip to your knee. ITB syndrome, common among runners, walkers and cyclists, occurs when the IT Band becomes irritated and inflamed as a result of overuse.
What are the symptoms of ITB syndrome?
Pain at the outside part of the knee (or less commonly at the outer part of the hip) is a common symptom. The pain usually occurs at the middle or end of a run (or ride), and is more intense on hills, stairs or inclines. It can cause a popping in the knee or snapping of the hip as well. 
What causes ITB syndrome?
Some common causes of ITB syndrome include one:
  • Overpronation (excessive inward rolling) of the feet
  • Weak hip and/or gluteus muscles
  • Overtraining (especially sudden increases in mileage or inclines)
  • Differences in leg lengths (which can occur by running on small indoor tracks)
  • Inadequate shoes (type, fit, cushioning)
What can be done to ease the pain of ITB syndrome?
  • Rest from exercise (especially from inclines and stairs). Only continue workouts that do not bring on pain.
  • Ice and anti-inflammatory medication to decrease the inflammation
  • Stretch and massage the area
  • Wear proper shoes. If your feet continue to overpronate, even with proper footwear, consider purchasing orthotics. (Insurance may cover orthotics, if prescribed by your doctor or chiropractor).    
If pain continues for more than two weeks and the above treatments do not resolve it, see your doctor to rule out other factors that may be causing the problem.
Plantar Fasciitis
What is plantar fasciitis?
The plantar fascia is the thick band of fibrous tissue (fascia) that attaches the bottom of the heel bone to the toes. The purpose of the plantar fascia is to absorb shock and support the arch of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of this tissue, caused by repetitive stretching and tearing. 
What are the symptoms of plantar fasciitis?
Experiencing pain with the first few steps you take each morning that seems to lessen with movement is a common symptom. However, the area usually becomes painful again with prolonged standing or walking.
What causes plantar fasciitis?
Some common causes of plantar fasciitis include:
  • Overtraining (especially long-distance running, walking, jogging or stair climbing)
  • Conditions like arthritis or diabetes
  • Poor foot anatomy and mechanics, such as flat feet, high arches or abnormal weight distribution
  • Inadequate shoes (type, fit, cushioning) and wearing high heels
What can be done to ease the pain of plantar fasciitis?
Treatment is most successful when started as soon as the symptoms and pain first occur. If treatment is limited or postponed, the condition can become chronic (it may lead to a bone spur) and much more difficult to treat. Typical treatment includes:
  • Stretch and massage the calf and arch of the foot, especially in the morning. Many times stretching alone will alleviate the problem. One effective stretch is to stand on the edge of a step or stair while holding onto a railing or wall for support. Let your heel hang off the back edge of the step (one at a time) until you feel a stretch. Hold this for stretch for one to five minutes and repeat several times a day. 
  • Resting from exercising
  • Ice and anti-inflammatory medicine to decrease the inflammation
  • Arch supports (orthotics), especially if you have very flat or extremely high arches
If the pain does not lessen with these treatments or if the pain has been presents for months then you should see a doctor. 
Shin Splints
What are shin splints?
Shin splints (also known as tibial stress syndrome) are a not a single medical condition, but a symptom of one of several underlying problems.
What are the symptoms of shin splints?
The dull pain of shin splints causes the front of the shin to ache, either chronically or only during exercise.
What causes shin splints?
Some common causes of shin splints include:
  • Changing the surface you usually run or walk on (such as formerly running on a track and then doing so on a sidewalk)
  • Ramping up your workout suddenly in intensity or duration
The underlying issues that lead to shin splints include:
  • Overuse of leg muscles
  • Stress fractures (tiny breaks in the lower leg bones)
  • Overpronation or ''flat feet"
What can be done to ease the pain of shin splints?
  • Resting from exercising
  • Ice and anti-inflammatory medicine to decrease the inflammation
  • Arch supports (orthotics), especially if you have very flat or extremely high arches
  • Range of motion exercises
Achilles Tendinopathy
What is Achilles tendinopathy?
Achilles tendinopathy refers to both Achilles tendinitis (an inflamation of the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf to the heel bone) and Achilles tendinosis (tiny tears in and around the tendon). While many doctors refer to all Achilles pain as tendinopathy, tendinosis is actually much more common.
What are the symptoms of Achilles tendinopathy?
Pain and swelling in the ankle are the most common symptoms. The pain can range from mild to severe and may only happen upon running or walking. The ankle may also become weak and inflexible.
What causes Achilles tendinopathy?
Some common causes of Achilles tendinopathy:
  • Overuse of ankles
  • Ramping up your workout suddenly in intensity or duration.
What can be done to ease the pain of Achilles tendinopathy?
It can take week or months for the Achilles tendon to repair itself. Typical treatments include:
  • Resting from exercising
  • Ice and anti-inflammatory medicine to decrease the inflammation
  • Wearing supportive footwear
  • Stretching exercises 
Sprains and Strains
What is the difference between a sprain and a strain?
Both sprains and strains are painful injuries that involve stretching or tearing, but sprains involve ligaments (which connect two bones together at a joint), while strains involve muscles or tendons (which connect muscles to bones).
What causes a sprain or strain?
Falling, twisting or getting hit can force a joint out of its normal position, causing a ligament to be stretched or torn. The most commonly sprained area of the body is the ankle, but wrists, knees and even fingers can be sprained. A strain is usually caused by a violent contraction, excessive force or other excessive use of an injured part of the body (such as repetitive motion that causes pain). 
What are the symptoms of a sprain or strain?
Both sprains and strains present with pain, inflammation and, sometimes, bruising. 
What can be done to ease the pain of a sprain?
Recovering from a sprain or strain varies in duration from days to weeks. 
Initial treatment of either injury should be RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). If the sprain or strain is severe, the area should be immobilized. Once swelling has subsided, range of motion exercises should begin, followed by strengthening exercises. Return to sports should not occur until there is no swelling and pain is not present with activity. The "no pain, no gain" philosophy will only prolong the injury. If severe pain or swelling persists for more than a week, you should see your doctor. You may need an X-ray to rule out a break or fracture.
For the most serious sprains and strains, you may need to seek professional physical therapy to fully heal the injury and prevent a reoccurrence.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer and Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist.
Khaund, Razib, M.D., Flynn, Sharon H., M.D. "Illiotibial Band Syndrom: A Common Source of Knee Pain," American Family Physician, 2005 Apr 15;71(8):1545-1550.
WebMD, "Understanding Sprains and Strains," www.webmd.com, accessed on April 18, 2013.
WebMD, "Shin Splints," www.webmd.com, accessed on April 18, 2013.
WebMD, "Achilles Tendon Problems," www.webmd.com, accessed on April 18, 2013.