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We’ve all been there. You’re running your usual trail, making great time and coming in on your fourth mile. But then you start to feel a slight ache in your heel. Maybe I can run through it, you think.
All too often runners ignore those little signs—a tender foot, a tight hamstring, a sore knee—when in fact these small twinges of pain may turn into a serious injury. In fact, in a Harvard study found that 74 percent of runners experience a moderate or severe injury each year.
Whether you’re a beginner runner or an avid marathoner, these are the seven most common running hotspots—and what you can do about them.
Blisters usually plague new runners who have softer tissue and might be running in a shoe that hasn’t been broken in yet.
The Fix: Go to a good running shoe store where experts can help you find the proper fit.
Hotspots: Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS)
Also known as “runner’s knee,” PFPS is caused by repetitive motion from running or jumping, causing the quadriceps tendon to pull on the patella and create friction under the kneecap. This is most often seen in someone who’s running too many miles, cross-training too much or is new to running.
The Fix: If you’re a newer runner, make sure you’re also strength training the gluteus medius, quad and hamstring muscles. Balancing strength training and stretching will help to ensure that you don’t strain the muscle or experience overuse.
Hotspots: Achilles Tendonitis
The Achilles is the thick tendon that goes down the calf and anchors into your heel bone. Runners experience this because as their foot pushes off of the ground to run, the Achilles engages. Many of those that experience this injury are heel strikers, shifting weight from heel to toe, from a complete stretch to a complete contraction, each time the foot pushes off of the ground. This can be more common in women, especially those that work in a professional setting that requires heels, putting the Achilles in a shortened position.
The Fix: Use a foam roller or a running stick to help stretch out the calf. If you keep experiencing pain, take about 10-14 days off from running, but do something else to stay in shape, such as cross training, running in water or biking.
Hotspots Hamstring Issues
The hamstring is a really large muscle that runs from your glute to the back of your knee, and engages tremendously while running. The injury can start small as a strain and it can lead to a torn hamstring.
The Fix: Be sure you’re doing dynamic stretching in which your movements are fluid, yet you’re still relieving soreness and stiffness. Some experts think that a dynamic warmup routine can actually help you perform better, too.
Hotspots: Plantar Fasciitis
The fascia is a thick band of tissue on the foot that stretches from the heel bone to your toes. In runners, this can get inflamed and you can get tears. If you’re one to wear dress shoes all day, you might be fatiguing it, and when you add running to the mix, this part of the foot can get overstretched.
The Fix: Use a frozen water bottle as a double dose of relief. Roll it over the arch of your foot for a stretch, and ice it to loosen up. Also make sure your shoes are right for you and provide enough support.
Hotspots: Iliotibial Band Syndrome
The iliotibial (or “IT”) band is the thick band that runs from the side of the hip down to the knee, but when you run, the IT band can rub on the outside portion of the knee and cause it to become irritated.
The Fix: Again, turn to your foam roller or a runner’s stick to loosen up the IT band. Also make sure you’re mixing up your routine to include strength training for your core and hip muscles.
Hotspots: Stress Fracture
Stress fractures are typically found in the shin or feet. Most people that develop stress fractures are running high mileage and may have gotten a smaller injury to the bone that doesn’t seem to hurt enough to stop. As you continue to run, the bone gets weaker and breaks down.
The Fix: Watch your mileage. If you’re a new runner, don’t go from zero to 60. Gradually build up your miles. For regular runners, make sure that you’re cross training and switching up your exercise routine with biking, swimming and strength training.
Cherie Miner, M.D., is a non-surgical orthopaedic and sports medicine physician at Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center in Birmingham, Ala. With a specialty in sports medicine and more than 10 years of experience in the non-surgical treatment of all orthopedic injuries, Dr. Miner also assists in overseeing a biomechanical running laboratory to assess runner’s strides and impact loading with a local physical therapy practice, and is working on developing safe return-to-running programs with runners after stress fractures.