The last thing you need is workout pain morphing into a full-blown injury. Watch out for these common conditions that strike active women, and find out how to stop them in their tracks.
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Common in: Runners, kickboxers, dancers
Plantar fasciitis can be a very painful and persistent condition with inflammation of the soft tissues around the heel, says Alexis E. Dixon, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at DISC Sports & Spine Center in California. The plantar fascia is a ligament that spans from the heel bone and fans to the forefoot. It can become aggravated by an increase in activity and stress on the foot.
"Calf tightness is at the root of the problem, and the mainstay of treatment is stretching the calf," says Dixon, who also recommends steering clear of any workouts that aggravate the plantar fascia until the pain subsides.
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Common in: Cyclists
The name may sound like medical jargon, but Dixon says metatarsalgia is a general term for pain in the ball of the foot. Cycling places a lot of pressure on the front of the foot due to clip-in pedals, so "using supplemental cushioning in the front of the shoe with a silicone insert (even while not biking) can help," she says.
If the area's swollen, it may be smart to check in with an orthopedic surgeon to make sure a stress fracture hasn't developed. (Do you also experience lower back pain during indoor Spinning classes? Here's why and how to fix it.)
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Common in: Runners
Stress fractures present with persistent achy pain during or after running, and tend to strike in the foot, lower leg, or lower back. "Women are predisposed to stress fractures due to menstrual irregularities, lower leg musculature, insufficient calorie intake, and hormone imbalances," says Luga Podesta, M.D., director of sports medicine at St. Charles Orthopedics in New York. (Avoid other common running injuries with these expert-backed tips.)
Avoiding sudden changes in workout intensity or running surfaces, gradually breaking in new shoes, and getting enough rest can help prevent stress fractures. If you're already experiencing symptoms, stop the kind of exercise that's causing your pain and check in with your doc to diagnose and treat the injury, says Podesta.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS)
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Common in: Runners, cyclists, kickboxers, gym-goers, dancers
Pain caused by PFPS usually stems from under the kneecap and accounts for up to 40 percent of knee problems seen in sports medicine clinics, says Rachel Straub, C.S.C.S., coauthor of Weight Training Without Injury. "Addressing weakness at the hip (and not purely the knee) is imperative for treating this condition," she says. If the hips are weak, the pelvis tends to drop and the knee tends to cave inward, which can cause this kind of pain.
Strengthening exercises that involve the knee, hips, and glutes—such as step-downs, squats, fire hydrants, lunges, and bridges—are essential for long-term success and treatment, as well as avoiding any exercises that increase knee pain during the healing process. (Weak hip abductors can also be to blame for other running pains.)
Femoral Acetabular Impingement (FAI)
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Common in: Cyclists, kickboxers, gym-goers
FAI is an impingement within the hip joint that can cause hip pain and early onset osteoarthritis, says Straub. And because it's a condition that often produces no symptoms, the vast majority of the people who have it may not know. Activities that require high amounts of hip flexion—such as cycling, kickboxing, and deep squatting—can cause pain for those who do experience symptoms, though. "Even if you're not experiencing pain, efforts should be taken to avoid high amounts of flexion," cautions Straub. Similar to PFP, exercises that strengthen the knee-hip-glute trifecta is key to FAI prevention and recovery.
Achilles Tendon Rupture
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Common in: Gym-goers
Because of how demanding strength training and weightlifting can be, inflammation of various tendons is super common—especially the Achilles tendon, which is the band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. Dixon says that in more serious cases, the tendon can tear. "If you feel a violent crack at the back of your heel when you're doing calf strengthening and weakness afterward, get it evaluated immediately," she says. "It's not something that will get better on its own, but it's sometimes possible to avoid surgery with very early detection."
To sidestep injury, stretch before and after your workouts and work with a trainer to learn proper techniques. (Are you stretching your feet? This is another reason why you should.)
Lower Back Pain
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Common in: Runners, cyclists, dancers, yogis
"Chances are, if you participate in any activity or sport, you likely have experienced low back pain at some point," says Straub, which can result from excessive curvature of the lower back (such as when cycling), excessive extension of the lumbar (such as during yoga), or excessive pelvic drop (such as when running or dancing, or during any activity that includes standing on one limb).
Strengthening your hips and core are uber-important in preventing further pain or injury, as is proper stretching before and after your workouts, she adds. (These yoga poses can also relieve back pain.)