Make no bones (or muscles or tendons) about it: Start running and there’s a good chance injury could follow. Some estimate that at least 50 percent of runners are injured each year. They don’t tell you that before you join the track team.
Most injuries are caused by overuse — applying repeated force over a prolonged period of time. Sudden changes in training volume can also do some damage, whether you’re a newbie or a vet.
Here are some of the most common running injuries and ailments that plague those who hit the pavement, along with a few ways to stop the pain.
Experiencing tenderness and pain around or behind the kneecap is usually a sign of patellofemoral pain syndrome, also known as runner’s knee. (And yep, this ailment is so common among runners that it was named after them.)
The repetitive force of pounding on the pavement, along with downhill running, muscle imbalances, and weak hips, can put extra stress on your kneecap. So stick to flat or uphill terrain and opt for softer running surfaces whenever possible.
To treat the pain, experts suggest taping your knee or using a knee brace in the short term, taking anti-inflammatory medications, and cutting back on mileage.
Physical therapy can also help prevent and treat this nagging knee pain.
Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS)
Distance runners take note: This injury is not your friend. ITBS triggers pain on the outside of the knee due to inflammation of the Iliotibial band, a thick tendon that stretches from your pelvic bone all the way down your thigh.
Common culprits include increased mileage (half-marathon training, anyone?), downhill running, and weak hips.
To ease the ache, give those muscles some love. Specific stretches, along with foam rolling, may decrease inflammation and help reduce pain.
A 2020 study suggests that increasing hip strength may help lessen symptoms.
Jumper’s knee (patellar tendinitis)
It’s often referred to as “jumper’s knee,” but this injury is also common among distance runners. Patellar tendinitis strikes when overuse (sensing a pattern here?) leads to tiny tears in the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap to the shinbone.
Overpronation, overtraining, and too many hill repeats are likely causes. To reduce the risk of patellar tendinitis, you can strengthen your hamstrings and quads (at the gym or at home) and ice your knee at the onset of pain.
Healthcare pros also recommend rest and physical therapy to help soothe and strengthen the tendon.
Swelling in the Achilles tendon, which connects your heel to your lower leg muscles, can result from many finicky factors: rapid mileage increase, improper footwear, tight calf muscles, or even having naturally flat feet.
To help sidestep pesky pain, make sure to always stretch your calf muscles after workouts and wear supportive shoes.
Also, chill out on the hill climbing, which puts extra stress on your tendons. Anti-inflammatories, stretching, and the ol’ R.I.C.E strategy (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) are the best ways to get back on the path to recovery.
A sprain happens when your ankle rolls inward or outward, stretching the ligament (and causing some serious pain). Curbs, potholes, tree branches, and just unfortunate landings are a few of the culprits.
Recovery may be a little shaky at first, but many experts suggest doing balance exercises (like single-leg squats) to strengthen the muscles around your ankle.
Stick to some solid rest after the sprain occurs — how long depends on the sprain’s severity, so see a healthcare pro for a more specific game plan. They might also recommend a temporary ankle brace or air cast and taping it up to prevent re-twisting once you’re ready to get back out there.
Plantar fasciitis is pain due to inflammation, irritation, or tearing of the plantar fascia, the tissue on the bottom of your foot.
Too much pounding on the road or wearing unsupportive footwear (read: flip-flops) can be the culprit here, leading to extreme stiffness or a stabbing pain in the arch of your foot. Sounds like fun, right?
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, stretching (rolling a tennis ball works great), over-the-counter pain meds like ibuprofen, good running shoes, and night splints may help.
If the problem persists, doctors recommend wearing custom-made orthotics or a night splint to speed up recovery and keep on rolling (er, running). But some more recent research suggests those night splints aren’t very effective, so consult a healthcare provider to find the best treatment option for you.
If you’re a runner who’s never experienced that aching, stabbing sensation in your shins, please tell us your secret. Among the most nagging of injuries, shin splints (aka medial tibial stress syndrome) occur when the muscles and tendons covering your shinbone become inflamed, often from repeated stress.
An estimated 35 percent of all athletes deal with shin splints. To stop the stabbing, try icing your shins for 15 to 20 minutes and keeping them elevated at night to reduce swelling.
Prevention is a liiiittle trickier, but research suggests that shock-absorbing insoles that support your arches can help.
Also make sure your sneakers are the right fit for your feet, and stick to running on softer surfaces whenever possible. Avoid hills, too, which put extra force on your shin’s tibialis muscle.
It’s universal: Noncontact sports can lead to broken bones too. The stress running puts on your bones can be taxing.
Stress fractures are tiny cracks in bone caused by repeatedly pounding with greater amounts of force than the leg bones can bear. They can happen even in folks who are young and healthy.
If this happens to you, taking some time off is a must, and it usually involves crutches with a side of physical therapy.
For the best shot at prevention, make cross-training your BFF to avoid overuse, wear proper shoes, and get enough calcium to keep your bones strong.
When a muscle is overstretched, fibers and tendons can tear and cause a pulled muscle. Muscle pulls in the calf and hamstring are common among runners.
Overuse, inflexibility, and forgetting to warm up are a few possible causes. To prevent a pull, make sure you do a proper warmup and cooldown and some dynamic stretching before a workout.
While the pain persists, lay off running (likely for 5 days or longer) and stick to gentle stretching and icing the muscle.
Ever get that awful pain in the side of your stomach? Side stitches (technically called exercise-related transient abdominal pain) can reallycreep up, affecting about 70 percent of runners.
Many experts believe the pain is caused by activities that involve repetitive torso movement — you know, like running.
If (or when) a side stitch strikes, try bending forward and tightening your core or breathing with pursed lips to help ease the pain. Maintaining a good posture while running may also help.
Perhaps the most inevitable ailment you’re likely to encounter, blisters can pop up when you least expect them. As your heel rubs against your shoe, the top layer of skin can tear, leaving a bubble between the layers of skin.
The best way to beat ’em is to prevent them: Make sure the shoe (literally) fits and wear a good pair of synthetic socks and maybe some moleskin for extra protection.
If a stubborn blister still appears, cover it up with a blister-specific bandage or covering. Most of the time, it’s best not to pop a blister, tempting as it may be.
For most people, there’s no escaping it. We all have skin that meets skin, no matter our size or body type.
When skin rubs against skin (we’re looking at you, thighs), it can become chafed, angry, and irritated. To stop the sting, throw on a pair of longer running shorts or capris, longer sleeves, or any other garment that can help you avoid that skin-on-skin action.
You can also try anti-chafing products like powders, sticks, ointments, and more to reduce friction in areas where adding fabric just won’t cut it.
Tips to prevent injury when you’re born to run
To minimize aches and pains, consider these running tips to stay on the safe side:
- Don’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent each week. Upping those miles too quickly is a major cause of overuse injuries.
- Heading out for an intense run? Remember to warm up and cool down to ease your body in and out of a workout and to help prevent injury.
- Smooth and efficient is the key. Not only will poor form hinder performance, but it could also lead to unnecessary pain. Make sure to use correct running technique to prevent injuries.
- Keep track of how many miles those running shoes have logged and replace them every 300 to 600 miles. It’s also worth swinging by a specialty running shoe store, where the staff can help you figure out which shoe is the perfect fit.
- Avoid running on uneven surfaces that put unnecessary stress on your ligaments. While off-roading is a fun change of pace, rough terrain may make it easier to twist an ankle, so be extra careful on the trails.
- Don’t disregard those dumbbells, even if running is your main gig. Building muscle can increase your structural fitness, which helps your bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles endure all that pounding.
- Shocker: Overtraining can cause overuse injuries. Make sure to take at least 1 day off per week and mix up those fartleks and hill repeats with some easier recovery runs.
Remember that none of this information is a substitute for professional medical advice. If you’re concerned about running injuries or you’re starting a new fitness routine, definitelycontact a doctor or physical therapist to discuss preventive measures before those aches and pains arise.