Runners meet Dr. Benjamin Domb for Q+A on running injuries, and how to avoid them

Why are shin splints a common problem for beginning runners?

New runners have a higher risk of developing shin splints because they often occur after sudden changes in physical activity. These changes can be in frequency, duration and intensity, which are all factors that someone preparing for a 5K need to increase. Other factors that contribute to shin splints for beginning runners include having flat feet or abnormally rigid arches and exercising with improper or worn-out footwear.

What steps can someone take as they begin running to avoid shin splints?

I recommend that new runners wear shoes designed for running, slowly build their fitness level by increasing the duration, intensity, and frequency of an exercise regimen gradually and cross train by alternating running with lower impact sports like swimming or cycling.

If someone first experiences heel pain, what steps should the take to prevent it from becoming full-blown plantar fasciitis?

First, consult a running coach to assess your form. Second, reevaluate your footwear. Third, immediately initiate a course of stretching and strengthening of the plantar fascia. Get it under control before it becomes a big problem!

Do you find that plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis is more common among beginning runners? Why do you think this is?

Heel-strikers will directly impact the plantar fascia, and as a result the may experience more plantar fasciitis. In contrast, toe-runners will put strain on the Achilles, and therefore may be at higher risk for Achilles tendinitis.

How can people prevent these foot and heel problems from sidetracking them as they get started running?

Proper running form necessitates a mid-foot strike. The foot should make contact with the ground directly beneath the center of gravity - not in front or it, nor behind it. This will avoid impact on the heel, while also avoiding over-straining the Achilles.

How often do you see knee problems like runner's knee or IT band syndrome among runner who are first getting started?

These are extremely common, both in beginners and in experienced runners.

Which seems to be more common?

IT band syndrome is among the most common problems in runners.

What problems among beginning runners can contribute to these knee problems?

I believe that overworking your body, use of improper running techniques, changes in footwear or running surface and problems with the alignment of the legs between the hips and the ankles can contribute to knee problems for beginning runners. In addition, muscular imbalances or weaknesses can cause poor tracking of the kneecap within the groove, which may lead to knee problems as well. Tightness of the IT band can result from all of these things.

What steps can beginning runners take to prevent them?

In order for new runners to prevent knee problems, I recommend maintaining the appropriate conditioning of the muscles around the knee, particularly the quadriceps and the hamstrings, performing leg extension exercises to strengthen and stretch the quadriceps and wearing shoes appropriate for running. I also suggest warm up thoroughly before training, increasing training gradually and maintaining a healthy body weight to avoid overstressing your knees. Lastly, regularly rolling out and stretching the IT band will help avoid tightness.