Not only does running have physical perks like burning calories, building stronger bones, and strengthening your core, but you can reap mental advantages from the sport, too.
Running can boost your mood, improve your self-esteem, and relieve stress. It can even protect the brain against Alzheimer's disease, and lower your blood pressure. Score!
Despite all of the great things running has to offer, this endurance sport has its setbacks, too. Without proper rest and running form, injuries are inevitable. Unfortunately, even when you follow advice from a running coach, injuries can happen!
To help minimize pain and maximize your running gains, we’ve outlined the most common running injuries (and how to treat them) below.
If you’ve ever heard someone complain that running hurts their knees, they might be referring to runner’s knee. It presents as pain around or behind the kneecap and is very common when it comes to individuals who regularly pound the pavement.
Runner’s knee occurs when the cartilage of the knee is irritated. Irritation is usually amplified when the intensity of exercise is increased. Repeatedly striking pavement, downhill running, muscle imbalances, and weak hips can all contribute to added stress on your kneecaps, causing discomfort.
How to Fix It
If your knee is causing you a great deal of pain, try taking a rest from running for a few days or cutting back on mileage.
Supplement this rest with anti-inflammatory medications and a strict icing regime. Reduce your chances of suffering from runner’s knee in the future by practicing proper running form, avoiding downhill running, and running on softer surfaces like a trail or track. Strengthening your leg muscles and hips can help ward off future discomfort.
Shin splints are painful to have and difficult to treat. This overuse injury can range from a stress injury, like the swelling of your shinbone, to a stress fracture, which is a crack in your bone.
Shin splints can be either muscle-related or bone-related. Since the range of severity can vary and pain can be felt in either the muscle or shinbone, it can be difficult to correctly identify how to treat shin splints. However, the majority of shin splints are bone-related, meaning an impact-related activity like running is hurting your bone and making it swell.
How to Fix It
Resting your legs and maybe even taking a slight hiatus from running is the best way to treat your shin splints. But icing and elevating your shins and taking anti-inflammatory medication can also help reduce swelling, and put your body on the path to recovery.
If shin splints occur repeatedly, you might have a bigger problem. Try getting your gait analyzed, making sure you have the proper running shoes, and look into taking supplements that may help build your bone mass. If the pain persists, be sure to consult your doctor.
You probably heard of the insufferable “Achilles heel” in your high school English class.
But unfortunately, the Achilles tendon can cause consequences in real life, too. Achilles tendinitis is the swelling of the Achilles tendon, which is the tissue that connects your heel to your lower leg muscles.
Symptoms include swelling and pain — sometimes even sharp pain — close to the heel. The inflammation can be caused by numerous factors, including:
- ramping up mileage too quickly
- wearing the wrong shoes
- having tight calf muscles
- having a naturally flat foot
How to Fix It
The healing process of Achilles tendinitis can be slow because the blood flow to the area is minimal.
You’ll want to be extra careful during recovery and not try to jump back into training too soon. To keep yourself pain-free, be sure to stretch and foam roll your calf muscles post-workout, and wear supportive shoes. If you’ve already experienced discomfort, take anti-inflammatories and try the R.I.C.E strategy: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Ward off oncoming pain in the future by continuing to stretch and strengthen the lower leg with exercises like calf raises and box jumps, as well as by keeping your training in check. Don’t ramp up your mileage or intensity too quickly, too soon.
IT Band Syndrome
Iliotibial band syndrome, or IT band syndrome (ITBS), has been compared to being stabbed in the side of the knee repeatedly. Meaning, it hurts!
ITBS happens when your IT band (the tendon that connects your knee and hip) gets inflamed, which can happen when you increase your mileage too fast, run downhill often, or have weak hips.
How to Fix It
It’s time to give your muscles some TLC. Massaging your quadriceps and hamstring muscles along with using a foam roller can help loosen up your muscles and ease the pain.
To reduce inflammation, use ice and anti-inflammatories. Once you’re able to walk and run pain-free, you can prevent it from happening again by:
- strengthening your hips
- strengthening your quads
- strengthening your hamstrings
- strengthening your glutes
If you feel consistent pain in the heel of your foot as well as the arch, you may have plantar fasciitis — which is really just a fancy name for inflammation in the bottom of the foot.
Characterized by sharp, tight, and painful sensations at the base of the heel, plantar fasciitis happens when your connective tissue (fascia) on the sole of your foot is pulled too tightly, creating microscopic tears and swelling.
Often caused by excess running on hard surfaces in unsupportive footwear, the good news is there are ways to soothe your soles.
How to Fix It
Stamp out pain with a combination of stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as decreasing your mileage until you can run injury-free. Try calf stretches, rolling a tennis ball or a cold can under your arches and heels to relieve pain, and toe scrunches to build a stronger foot and support system.
If the problem persists, try wearing shoes with a little extra cushion.
Running injuries are far too common, but don’t let it stop you from putting in the miles, if you enjoy it. Just remember: A little bit of rest goes a long way. And if pain persists, be sure to consult a doctor.
Erin Kelly is a writer, marathoner, and triathlete living in New York City. She can regularly be found running the Williamsburg Bridge with The Rise NYC, or cycling laps of Central Park with the NYC Trihards, New York City's first free triathlon team. When she isn't running, biking, or swimming, Erin enjoys writing and blogging, exploring new media trends, and drinking lots of coffee.