Ready, set, run!
Running can be life-changing—a near-instant stress buster, a proven calorie blaster and a chance to impress yourself. But it also has a drawback: About half of all runners will get injured, according to Reed Ferber, director of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada.
It’s not inevitable, though. “More than half of all injuries can be avoided just by listening to your body and preparing it better,” says Lisa Callahan, MD, co-director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery, in New York City. That means wearing proper shoes, staying strong and addressing aches early. Here’s how to run pain-free.
What it feels like: Pain near the kneecap that gets worse when you run downhill or descend stairs.
What it is: An irritation of cartilage under the kneecap or strain of underlying tendons. It’s often linked to weak hip-rotator muscles.
Fix it: Ice your knee for 10 to 15 minutes after running. Also, decrease your run distance and frequency by half and avoid running on consecutive days, advises Brian Eckenrode, assistant professor of physical therapy at Arcadia University, in Glenside, Pa.
Prevent it: Strengthen outer hip muscles with side-lying leg lifts or clamshells (lie on side, knees bent; lift top leg but keep heels together).
Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome
What it feels like: Pain around the outside of the knee and/or hip.
What it is: When the ITB, a thick tendon that runs from the hip to the knee, becomes tight, it can create tension on the fluid sacs (bursae) located at the knee and hip joints, causing them to swell.
Fix it: Cut back on your mileage by 50 percent or take a few weeks off entirely. Try cross-training with a low-impact activity, like cycling. Icing the area may also help.
Prevent it: Regularly roll out the sides of your hips on a foam roller to break up tissue adhesions. And add strengthening exercises, such as hip raises, to weekly workouts.
What it feels like: Pain along the inside or outside of shins; you’ll usually feel it at the beginning of a run.
What it is: An inflammation of the muscles or tendons located around your shinbone.
Fix it: Ice the area and stretch your calf muscles. Scale back or skip running until you’re pain-free.
Prevent it: New runners can be prone to shin splints, but you can steer clear by increasing distance slowly, notes Eckenrode. Flat feet can also contribute; talk to your doc about orthotics.
What it feels like: Pain along the back of the leg, near the heel.
What it is: An inflammation of the Achilles, the largest tendon in the body, which connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. It’s often caused by tight calf muscles.
Fix it: Take a break from running in favor of cross-training with a low-impact activity for a few weeks.
Prevent it: Build strength with eccentric heel lowering: Rise up on ball of foot, then slowly lower down in six counts. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps per leg twice a day.
What it feels like: Pain along the bottom of the foot near the heel, especially after you get out of bed.
What it is: Inflammation or irritation of the plantar fascia, the band of connective tissue that joins the heel and forefoot and gives arch support.
Fix it: Freeze a water bottle, then roll the sole of your foot on it. Also, try stretching: Sit with ankle of affected foot on opposite thigh. Grasp top of big toe and gently pull away from foot. Do 10 reps three times a day.
Prevent it: High and low arches are prone to plantar fasciitis. Avoid very high heels, which can shorten calf muscles, and flip-flops, which provide little to no arch support.
What it feels like: Pain along the back of the leg.
What it is: An overstretch or slight tear of one or more of the three muscles in the back of the upper leg.
Fix it: Rest and ice. The recovery time varies.
Prevent it: Strengthening your core and hips (with moves like side-lying leg lifts and plank lifts) can stave off recurrences.
What it feels like: Pain, tingling or numbness in the backside, extending down the leg; it worsens when you climb stairs or sit.
What it is: A result of the piriformis muscle, located deep in the butt, pressing against the sciatic nerve.
Fix it: Rest and stretch. Try sitting with ankle of hurt leg crossed over opposite thigh; lean forward and hold for 15 counts. Repeat three to five times per side.
Prevent it: Avoid uneven surfaces and add moves that bolster hip abductors, such as side-lying leg lifts.