Common Injuries in Track and Field

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Track and field is a sport that has been around for thousands of years, dating all the way back to 776 B.C. This was the year of the very first Olympic games in Olympia, Greece. At the time, a stadium-length foot race was the original event. Track and field did not make its debut in the United States until the late 1860s where it was considered an amateur sport only. It wasn’t until the 1920s that it became an NCAA sport.

Track and field is a combination of running, jumping, and throwing. The highly competitive nature of the sport puts athletes at an increased risk for injury if proper precautions are not taken or if an athlete receives improper training. The most common injuries tend to be overuse injuries rather than acute injuries that are commonly seen in other sports.

Common injuries in include:

  • Patellar tendinitis (jumper’s knee)
  • Shin splints
  • Hamstring strain
  • SLAP (superior labrum anterior to posterior) tears
  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee)
  • Plantar fasciitis

Patellar tendinitis is commonly caused by excessive jumping and landing, putting a lot of stress on the patella tendon as well as the quadriceps muscles. Treatment often includes RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), physical therapy, and rest.

Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, can be caused by a number of things: overuse, tight calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), weak anterior tibialis muscle, flat feet, and poor gait biomechanics. Treatment includes lowering the amount of activity until the inflammation calms down, ice massage, calf stretches, and proper footwear. Strength, stability, and gait pattern changes are often necessary to prevent the problem from recurring.

Hamstring strains, to put it simply, are caused by muscle overload. The overload can be caused by fatigue, poor form (running, jumping, etc.), poor flexibility, or muscle weakness. Hamstring strains can be further broken down into grade 1, 2, or 3 (mild strain to severe/tendon rupture). Treatment of hamstring strains is RICE. Return to play should be gradual without any vigorous activity initially. Physical therapy is critical to hasten and optimize recovery of the strained muscle.

SLAP (superior labrum anterior to posterior) tears occur in throwing athletes (e.g. shotput, discuss, javelin throwers). The tear occurs at the superior portion of the labrum where the long head of the biceps tendon also attaches. Typically an MRI is needed to confirm this diagnosis and often surgical treatment is necessary.

Rotator cuff injuries of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, or subscapularis tendons are a common overuse injury in throwing athletes as well. Treatment of both shoulder conditions includes RICE, physical therapy, and surgery in a number of these cases where the structural lesion will not heal non operatively.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome aka “runner’s knee” is a rather generic term for pain in the front of the knee. The pain is often around or behind the kneecap. Treatment includes rest and physical therapy. Research has shown great results with rehab focused on core and pelvic stability. Often taping or patellar stabilizing brace can also be helpful.

Plantar Fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain in athletes. It is caused by inflammation of the fascia that runs from the toes to the heel. This can be due to overuse, poor footwear, and tight calf muscles. Treatment includes physical therapy, stretching, proper footwear, and occasionally steroid injections. Eccentric loading exercises have shown great results. Surgery is rarely indicated.


By Kristie Thatcher and Mo Mortazavi, MD


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S. (2010). Track and Field[PDF]. Tampa: USF.

Anderson, K., & Ashfaq, K. (2013). Our knowledge of orthopaedics. Your best health. Retrieved December 11, 2017, from–conditions/shoulder-injuries-in-the-throwing-athlete/