Common Winter Running Injuries and How to Avoid Them

Written by Chris Bradley

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As the winter approaches, runners of all experience levels prepare for the challenges of the cold and icy conditions. Beyond the immediate discomfort, the frigid temperatures and slippery surfaces heighten the risk of injuries, so you must understand the common running injuries and how to prevent them, both for achieving race goals and preserving mental well-being.

This blog explores the most prevalent winter running injuries and provides detailed insights on how to avoid them.

1. Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

There are several signs of plantar fasciitis you should be aware of. This condition manifests as persistent pain beneath the foot, particularly around the heel and arch. It involves the inflammation of the plantar fascia, a crucial band of tissue supporting the arch. While the pain tends to subside during exercise, it often resurfaces during rest periods.

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

Several factors contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis, including the following:

  • A sudden increase in activity levels.
  • Wearing worn-out running shoes – shoes that no longer cushion and support your feet when running.
  • Excess body weight – additional weight can put more stress on the tendon.
  • The nature of the exercise surface – hard and irregular surfaces can make plantar fasciitis more likely to occur.
  • Individual foot structure.

Adopting preventative measures involves creating a sensible exercise plan, choosing appropriate footwear, maintaining a healthy weight, and incorporating targeted arch stretches into your routine.

What is the Best Treatment for Plantar Fasciitis?

Effective treatment for plantar fasciitis involves various strategies. These include the following:

  • Apply ice to the affected area for 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Engaging in regular stretching exercises.
  • Opting for non-weight-bearing activities like swimming.
  • Managing pain through suitable measures with recovery tools, such as a foam roller or a medical quality massage ball before and after the run.
  • Seeking physical therapy to create an adequate treatment plan, rule out complications, and prevent compensation injuries in other areas of the body.
  • Considering supportive devices such as night splints or orthotics

Orthotics and night splints can help stretch your Achilles tendon and plantar fascia throughout the night and distribute pressure on your feet.

When using ice on an injury, ensure a thin cloth remains between the ice pack and your skin. You can use medication to help lessen pain, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen. However, you should refrain from using ibuprofen within 48 hours of developing plantar fasciitis.

With the proper treatment, patients usually experience significant improvement within several months.

2. Groin Injury

Groin Injury

What is a Groin Injury?

A groin injury commonly involves damage to the inner thigh muscles, specifically the adductors, making it a common problem for winter runners, however, might be the result of more complex issues such as pelvis and spinal dysfunctions identified through further assessment.

What Causes a Groin Injury?

These injuries often occur when runners lose their footing, slipping on ice or navigating uneven terrain, leading to an overstretching of the groin muscles. 

You can use several running in winter tips to prevent groin injuries, such as maintaining strong and flexible muscles through gradually increasing exercise duration and incorporating tailored strength training.

What is the Best Treatment for a Groin Injury?

Use ice packs to reduce swelling and apply heat once the swelling has subsided. To alleviate tightness, seek massage therapy, and adopt rest and other home care measures.

Proper care ensures a faster recovery time, typically within a few weeks.

If recurrent or persistent, it is always recommended to seek professional advice, to create an adequate treatment plan, rule out complications, and prevent compensation injuries in other areas of the body.

3. Ankle Sprain

Ankle Sprain

What is an Ankle Sprain?

An ankle sprain involves strain on the ligaments or tendons, often resulting in injuries to the structures, and compromising the stability of the ankle. Symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, and tenderness to touch.

What Causes an Ankle Sprain?

Causes range from twisting and landing awkwardly to exercising on uneven ground. Prevention methods include the following:

  • Regular stretching.
  • Maintaining ankle flexibility and specific proprioceptive strength training.
  • Warming up adequately.
  • Choosing even surfaces for running.

What is the Best Treatment for an Ankle Sprain?

Recovery time for a sprained ankle depends on the severity of the injury, typically within 6-to-12 weeks. Treatment involves stretching and strengthening exercises, along with proper rest and care.

4. Knee Strain

Knee strain

What is Knee Strain?

Knee strain involves the stretching or tearing of connective tissue around the joint, resulting in pain, bruising, swelling, and difficulty in movement.

What Causes Knee Strain?

Factors contributing to knee strain include sudden twisting and increased activity. To reduce the likelihood of straining a knee, you can do the following:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Correct muscle imbalances.
  • Recognise your body’s symptoms.
  • Ensure a proper warm-up before exercise involving appropriate strength training.

What is the Best Treatment for Knee Strain?

Effective treatment for pain in the knee can vary depending on the individual and their running experience, but usually includes the following:

  • Applying ice.
  • Resting.
  • Compressing the affected area.
  • Elevating the leg.
  • Using physiotherapy to aid flexibility and muscle strength preventing future complications.

Following the correct exercises helps your knee return to normal function. When the pain allows you to do so, exercise can help further strengthen the surrounding muscles around the knee alongside physiotherapy.

5. Shin Splints

Shin Splints

What are Shin Splints?

Shin splints, a non-medical term, refer to the pain in the shins caused by tendon inflammation behind the shin bone. The pain typically manifests midway up the front of the leg.

What Causes Shin Splints?

The causes listed below often trigger shin splints:

  • Muscle imbalance.
  • Weak calf muscles.
  • Improper walking or running techniques.
  • Insufficient warm-up and cool-down routines.
  • Any recent increase in physical activity.

Running in winter on frozen, hard ground can exacerbate the condition, applying additional pressure to the leg. Preventative measures include the following:

  • Wearing proper shoes with arch supports and shock-absorbing soles.
  • Combined with wearing supportive compression socks designed for running.
  • Engaging in strength training.
  • Create methodological running schedules, instead of random workouts.
  • Choosing suitable running surfaces.

What is the Best Treatment for Shin Splints?

Shin splints should typically resolve within a few weeks with proper treatment. The initial steps involve applying ice packs to the affected area and refraining from running for at least two weeks.

People commonly access physiotherapy through GP referrals as a means of support. It is free by the NHS or can be taken privately through clinics like ours.

Running in winter in the UK introduces unique challenges that can lead to various injuries. Understanding the causes and symptoms of common injuries such as those mentioned above is pivotal for runners to adopt effective preventative measures.

Consider seeking physiotherapy for a comprehensive injury prevention and recovery approach. Whether preparing for a marathon or enjoying a winter run, prioritising your health ensures a safer and more enjoyable experience.

At bodytonic, we offer specific physiotherapy treatment plans to suit your injuries or needs. Our trained professionals can help you in various situations to improve your rehabilitation, providing bespoke solutions to support you and your goals.

Contact us today to see how bodytonic can help you with physiotherapy.