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What are the most common injuries among teen runners?

Teenage Running Injuries: Tips for Prevention and Management

Being active during the teenage years is not only essential for physical development but also for mental well-being. Athletics and cross country running are popular sports among teens, but like any physical activity, there are inherent risks.

We caught up withSam Donaldson, the head physio for the Queensland Firebirds and a trusted expert who has also provided his expertise to Australian running champion Torrie Lewis and to renowned teams like the Junior Matildas, Pararoos, Young Socceroos, and the Women's Brisbane Roar team!

With a wealth of experience under his belt, Sam is here to shed light on common injuries in teenage runners, equip us with the knowledge to identify them, and, most importantly, share invaluable tips on how to avoid teen running injuries. So, let's jump right in and discover the secrets to a safe and injury-free running journey!


What are the most common injuries in teenage runners?


  1. Shin Splints (Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome)

This condition manifests as pain or discomfort along the inner side of the shin bone. In its milder form, this condition may show improvement during a warm-up but become more painful if you cool down and have to run again. As the problem progresses, it may cause increased discomfort while running and even make walking uncomfortable in more severe cases. 

Strengthening the calf and gluteal muscles and using orthotic devices, if needed, can help manage this injury effectively. It’s important to get this assessed by a professional, as pain at the anterior border of the shin may be a more serious bone stress injury that can be difficult to manage if not accurately identified.

  1. Anterior Knee Pain (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)

Anterior knee pain, which is felt around the front of the knee, can be challenging to pinpoint. Similar to shin splints, this type of pain may temporarily subside with a warm-up but worsen with continued activity. Walking up or down stairs often exacerbates the discomfort.

Teen runners who engage in other sports may experience this knee pain due to tendon-related issues, which is a common injury when jumping high volumes. Several factors, including biomechanics, footwear, and muscle strength in the thigh, hip, and calf, can contribute to this injury.

  1. Achilles Tendon Pain

Achilles tendon pain specifically targets the tendon located at the base of the calf as it extends towards the heel. It can also manifest as localized pain at the insertion point on the heel bone. This type of pain is often associated with factors such as changes in footwear, biomechanics, or inconsistent running loads, where a pattern of alternating high and low-intensity weeks is commonly observed in an athlete's training history.

  1. Bone Stress Injury

One important injury not to overlook is a bone stress injury in the lower limb, which can occur in different areas like the front of the shin, the thigh bone, or the foot. While some bone stress injuries may pose a "low risk" and only require minor intervention, others may necessitate a significant period of rest from running and require caution when engaging in physical activities. It's crucial to be aware of the potential severity and take appropriate measures for recovery and prevention.



How can an injury be identified?

If you experience a new pain or discomfort during or after an activity that you're familiar with, it's important not to dismiss it as just a "niggle." While it may not initially impact your training or performance, it's worth paying attention to since approximately 25% of such niggles can develop into actual injuries. Other signs of an injury include localized pain, swelling, tenderness, and a reduced range of motion.

If you're uncertain about the nature of your discomfort, seeking advice from a healthcare professional can be immensely valuable and reassuring. A physiotherapist can provide a thorough diagnosis and create a personalized treatment plan to facilitate your safe return to running. Remember, it's better to be proactive and seek guidance to prevent any potential injury from worsening.



How to Avoid Teen Running Injuries

To avoid running injuries as a teenager, consider the following tips:

  1. Gradual Progression:Avoid sudden increases in mileage or intensity and allow your body time to adapt.
  2. Cross-training: Engage in a variety of activities to strengthen different muscle groups and reduce overuse injuries.
  3. Proper Footwear: Invest in running shoes that provide adequate support, cushioning, and stability based on your foot type and mechanics.
  4. Rest & Recovery:Allow sufficient rest days for your body to repair and rebuild. Listen to your body's signals and don't ignore fatigue or pain.
  5. Good Running Form: Seek guidance from a running coach to ensure proper technique.
  6. Strength & Conditioning:Incorporate regular strength and conditioning exercises, focusing on the core, hips, and lower limbs, to improve stability and reduce injury risk.


    Warm-up & Stretching

    A proper warm-up is beneficial in preventing teen running injuries and enhancing performance. Activities like calf raises, lunges, slow running, and running drills can be included in a 10-minute warm-up routine. While research suggests that stretching may not prevent injuries, it may aid in recovery. Focus on major muscle groups, including calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip flexors.

    By implementing these injury prevention strategies and adopting a holistic approach, you can minimize the risk of running-related injuries. Remember, preventing injuries directly correlates with improved performance. Stay safe, have fun, and enjoy the thrill of running!

    Sam Donaldson

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    *This article should not be taken as medical advice and is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult your Physiotherapist or GP for a medical diagnosis.