Running is a popular exercise, offering many health benefits for the body and mind. Studies show that running for just 5 to 10 minutes per day, four to five times per week, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke. Running regularly has also been shown to improve sleep and mood. And it helps people lose or maintain a healthy weight. As an added bonus, running is an activity that can be done by almost anyone, anywhere, without the need for special equipment or an expensive gym membership.
But running is also a high-impact exercise that can be especially hard on the knees, legs and feet. If you’re overdoing it or not warming up properly, you may end up with a running-related injury.
Here are three common running injuries and tips to help prevent them. You'll also find recovery tips and information about when to see a doctor below.
Also called muscle strains, this can happen when you overstretch a muscle, causing pain and limited range of motion. Muscle pulls most commonly occur in the hamstrings, quadriceps, calf or groin.
- Prevention: Don’t skip your warm-up. When muscles and tendons aren’t warmed up, they don’t work as well and that can lead to injury. Before heading out, do a series of dynamic stretches, such as controlled leg and arm swings or slow lunges. You can also warm up by walking and then gradually increase to your running speed.
Also called tibial stress syndrome, a shin splint can happen when you’re running more than usual, especially on hard, high-impact surfaces like concrete. It causes pain along the shinbone that can usually be alleviated with rest. If you ignore the pain and don’t give your body the rest it needs, a shin splint can develop into a stress fracture, which is a hairline crack in the bone. Stress fractures are commonly caused by repetitive stress and can cause pain, swelling, bruising and tenderness.
- Prevention: Always warm up before running and wear properly fitting and supportive running shoes. If you have flat feet, you’re more likely to get shin splints, so you may also need special orthotic inserts. It’s also helpful to avoid running on hard surfaces as much as possible and don’t run too much. If you have pain in your shin, stop running temporarily so you don’t wind up with a stress fracture, which can be more painful and take much longer to heal.
The term “runner’s knee” is used to describe many types of knee injuries that result in irritation of the cartilage behind the kneecap. The dull pain often becomes sharper after jumping, using the stairs or squatting, or after periods of prolonged sitting.
- Prevention: Always warm up first and avoid running on hard surfaces like concrete. Maintain a regular exercise routine that keeps your thigh muscles strong and limber. Make sure your running shoes have enough support and change them often if you run a lot.
How to Treat These Running Injuries
The recommended treatment methods for muscle pulls, shin splints and runner’s knee are very similar.
If you can’t walk at all and/or you heard a “popping” sound when the injury first occurred, see a doctor immediately.
Otherwise, try the RICE method (Rest - Ice - Compression - Elevation):
- Rest. Take time off from running to allow your injury to heal. How long you rest will depend on how long the pain, swelling and tenderness persists.
- Ice. Keep ice on the affected area for 20 minutes every hour or so to reduce pain and swelling. After 48 hours, switch to heat if you still have pain.
- Compression. Wrap the affected area with an elastic bandage to help minimize swelling. Only apply gentle pressure and make sure it’s not too tight.
- Elevation. Raise the affected area, which also helps reduce swelling.
If your pain subsides and you can move normally after a few days, you can gradually resume your normal activities. Just don’t overdo it. If you’re still feeling pain or the pain goes away only to return with resumed activity, give your body more time to heal or visit a physician or physical therapist.
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Date Last Reviewed: April 14, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Andrew P. Overman, DPT, MS, COMT, CSCS