Injury prevention

Running injury terminology

May 12, 2020

We’re all bound to get an injury at some point if we’re physically active and it can be incredibly frustrating when an injury sets you back in your training goals. To help you understand your injuries and some of the terms that you may hear in your running circles, here’s a look at some of the common injury terminology.

Runner stretching injury

A Stitch

A really uncomfortable sharp sensation felt in the side of your tummy below the diaphragm. It seems to disable you from continuing your run.

How to Prevent: Maintain controlled deep breathing during runs. Do not consume high fat content and fibre type of foods before your run. Drink your fluids in small sips at regular intervals prior to your run instead of gulping large quantity in one go.

Muscle Strain

This is when the muscle feels slightly sore, niggly and does not allow you to perform the desired movement at greater than 40% of its normal range due to the muscle being overstretched. The extent of stretch determines the severity, with a Grade 1 strain being the least severe and Grade 3 being the most severe type of strain.

How to prevent: Maintain strengthening. Warm up and stretch effectively before activity. Stay hydrated during activity. Foam roll as part of your cool down.

Muscle tear

Occurs when there is a separation in the muscle fibres due to overuse, fatigue and overload. Forces or effort exerted is greater than the workload that the muscle can endure resulting in you not being able to perform any movement. The site of the injury feels locked and sore. The limb feels weak and there is notable swelling.

How to prevent: Include a sufficient warm up and stretch in your pre-training/workout routine. Ensure adequate recovery after intense training sessions. Do regular ice baths. Adjust your strength programs to focus on muscle balance between agonist and antagonistic muscle groups.


Tendons are a connective tissue structure joining muscle onto bone. Tendonitis occurs due to repetitive use or incorrect loading onto the tendon, muscle weakness and friction of the tendon rubbing against the bone. The irritation causes inflammation whereby the tendon feels thickened, with a constant dull ache. Localised pain is experienced, function decreases and the ability of the tendon to take on effort is 55%-60% of its normal capacity.

How to prevent: Progressive strengthening is advised and mobility exercises influencing a blood pump into the tendon is advised. Cryotherapy after longer training sessions is beneficial and ensure you take sufficient rest days.


Occurs when the tendon degenerates, feels thinned out unlike tendonitis. It is caused by overuse and incorrect mechanics. Pain is experienced during and after exercise.

How to prevent: Do circulatory exercises, use heat before exercise and see your physio for maintenance sessions.

Plantar Fasciitis

An annoying pain underneath your foot just beyond your calcaneus (heel bone) and underneath the mid foot. The thick, fibrous tendonus structure that continues from your heel bone to the phalanges of the foot becomes inflamed and stiff, causing a stabbing pain that worsens as you walk.

How to prevent: Do regular stretching of your plantar fascia. Maintain good contour of your arch by strapping or using arch support. Use appropriate shoes depending on your foot type and activity.

Runner’s Knee

This describes patella femoral symptoms that may include patella tendon pathology. One usually feels a dull ache during activity. Knee flexion is restricted. Any amount of load through the affected structures exacerbates pain sensation.

How to prevent: Adequate strengthening of quadriceps and tib anterior muscles. Balance between upper leg stabilisers and ITB (Iliotibial band). It’s recommended to take a good joint supplement or collagen.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Occurs when one feels a sharp, stabbing pain on the outside of the upper knee. The tendon joining the ITB onto the lateral knee is inflamed due to friction, jarring forces on the knee, tight glutes and incorrect loading through the quad muscles.

How to prevent: Regular stretching of the glutes and outer thigh helps. Foam rolling and hip mobility is beneficial, as well as icing the entire knee after a long run.

Locked SIJ

Runners usually use this to describe pain or tightness in the base of the lower back. Sacroiliac Joint (SIJ) is a joint formed by the articulation of the sacrum and ilium bones. When the paravertebrals and erector spinae tighten up and become spasmic, it limits mobility of the spine and a prolonged dull ache is experienced. A runner may feel it difficult to increase their stride length.

How to prevent: Focus on core strengthening, regular lower back stretching and global back strengthening. Practice correct running, form especially up hills or inclines. Consult your physio for an accurate diagnosis on lower back pain. It’s recommended to see a chiropractor once every 3 months.

These are the common terms that you may come across from your fellow runners when attempting to diagnose your injuries. Often you will get varying kinds of advice from each other, but it’s always best to be safe and consult your physio to ensure you get the appropriate treatment.

For a detailed look at common running injuries, check out the Run Life Injuries page

Sumeshen Moodley

Sumeshen Moodley is a qualified physiotherapist in Durban who has worked with numerous international sports teams and athletes. He is passionate about running and has a special interest in human movement and biomechanics to optimise athletic/sport performance. Find out more about Sumeshen here

More articles