Common Injuries in Track & Field Athletes
Track & Field is a sport that involves a combination of activities that require running, jumping, and throwing. Due to the broad scope of different activities within the sport as well as the physical demands required, competing athletes are at high risk for injury.
Even those that don’t compete at a high level but instead participate recreationally can still experience injury. In fact, 80% of injuries associated with running are simply caused by repetitive stress and overuse.
Other injuries can be caused by collision, impact, poor technique, and lack of strength. These injuries can range from mild to severe and even persist chronically if the proper treatment and preventative measures aren’t met.
In what follows, we’ll be discussing the most common injuries related to the sport of Track & Field. We’ll also discuss potential treatments and preventative protocol measures to combat such injuries.
Most Common Track & Field-Related Injuries
Like many true Track & Field athletes, those with the most rigorous of schedules are most likely to get injured. Unfortunately, because the sport requires so many skills across several athletic disciplines, rigorous training hours are required to compete at an elite level.
Even athletes that simply participate in long-distance running will typically log anywhere from 50 to 100 miles of training each week. Mileage can even be higher in athletes of the highest caliber.
As you can imagine, this takes quite a toll on the body, including the muscles, bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments. In order to simply sustain this high level of activity, hours of recovery and preventative exercises are required. In addition, several hours are needed for extra measures to prevent or limit the risk of injury.
In any sport, and most definitely in Track & Field, injuries are inevitable, even in the most prepared of athletes. The following are the most common and prevalent injuries seen in track & field athletes:
- Patellofemoral Syndrome (Runners’ Knee)
- Patellar Tendonitis (Jumpers’ Knee)
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Hamstring Tear
- Achilles Tendonitis
Other common injuries prevalent in Track & Field, and more specifically sprinting and long-distance running, are shin splints, traumatic knee injuries, calf strain, ankle sprain, fractures, and IT band syndrome.
The large majority of track & field related injuries and, more specifically, running-related injuries are lower-extremity based.
Otherwise known as runners’ knee, patellofemoral syndrome is most commonly caused by overuse. If you’re experiencing pain in the front of the knee or surrounding area, and you’re an avid runner, you may well be experiencing symptoms of runners’ knee.
Luckily, this type of injury can be non-invasively treated with guidance from your doctor and physical therapy.
More commonly known as jumpers’ knee, patellar tendonitis is an injury of the patellar tendon, the ligament attaching the patella (kneecap) to the tibia. Patellar tendonitis is inflammation involving the patellar tendon due to repetitive impact and wear & tear.
Patellar tendonitis does have the rare complication of full ligament tear or rupture.
One of the most common foot injuries in general, and certainly in Track & Field, plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury that causes discomfort and pain at the bottom of the foot (plantar surface). The injury occurs in cases of overuse and general wear and tear of the fascia at the plantar aspect of the foot and is best treated with rest.
While most cases are minor and can be treated at home, rare cases may need surgical treatment.
Because the primary role of the hamstrings is to assist in deceleration, hamstring injuries are quite common in lower extremity power-based sports such as sprinting and long jump.
Hamstring injuries, though most often due to active injury, can also be the byproduct of tightness, weakness, and fatigue of the muscle itself. While hamstring tears that occur in sprinters are often more sudden and severe, those that occur in long-distance runners are typically slower to progress, developing from initial micro-tears and worsening over time.
The Achilles tendon is a tendon attaching the calf muscle to the heel and is the largest tendon in the body. Because its primary function is to facilitate lower extremity movement of the leg and foot, Achilles injuries, both mild and severe, are quite common in track & field athletes.
While Achilles tendinitis can be a difficult condition, it can be treated effectively. Yet, it’s important to know that this condition can be a precursor to an even worse injury, such as Achilles tendon tear or rupture.
Unfortunately, an Achilles tendon tear or rupture is a common injury that can be seen in track & field athletes, and it will require surgery and months of rehabilitation.
Effective Treatment Options
If you’ve since been diagnosed with an injury or you’re experiencing symptoms that you presume may be a specific injury, it’s important to seek medical treatment immediately.
Effective treatment options commonly used for runner injuries include:
- Contrast therapy (hot and cold exposure)
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Muscle relaxants and pain relievers
- Non-steroidal injections
The type of treatment is dependent on the specific nature of the injury, and it’s best to seek personalized treatment specific to your injury. Your sports medicine specialist will be able to diagnose and recommend the best course of action for your injury.
Injury Prevention Tips for Track & Field Athletes
Although injuries can happen to anyone, especially competitive runners and track & field athletes, the nature of this sport is highly likely to yield injuries. It can be difficult in some cases to prevent such events from happening.
Preventative actions can still be implemented, and they are extremely helpful in reducing the chances of injury.
Below are the most effective preventative measures:
- Stretching (warming up & cooling down)
- Don’t overtrain
- Follow a slow progression plan (increase training volume strategically)
- Listen to your body
- Rest and recovery
- Implement a complementary strength training program
- Improve technique
The most common causes for injuries for runners and track & field athletes are overuse, overtraining, and lack of preventative rehabilitation and recovery. By following the recommended measures, athletes will put themselves in a much better position to prevent injuries.
Many track & field athletes and distance runners are likely to experience an injury at some point in their journey. The minute the symptoms of pain and discomfort develop, it’s best to seek early evaluation by a medical professional to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.
Additionally, it helps to use other at-home treatment techniques, such as rest, contrast therapy, and stretching. Preventative measures can also be the key to a continuous healthy career as a track and field athlete.