From plantar fasciitis to runner’s knee to iliotibial band syndrome, don’t let these common discomforts that plague new runners sideline you
If you’re new to running, you're unfortunately also new to a whole world of aches and pains that come mostly from adding too much mileage too soon. But starting—or returning to—a running routine doesn't need to cause you trouble. After all, there are a few basics for avoiding injury—and some don't even have anything to do with how you hit the pavement. (Psst! These are the 5 Exercises Most Likely to Cause Injury.)
So as for your specific aches, we've solved 'em. Here are five common injuries, plus how to avoid and relieve them once they strike.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome, better known as “Runner’s Knee,” is a catchall for soreness that strikes around the kneecap. Irritation of the tendons, cartilage, fat pad beneath the patella, or other tissues could be the culprit thanks to any number of maladies like overuse, muscle imbalance, foot problems, a misaligned kneecap, or something else.
Avoid it: Strengthen your quadriceps and glutes, says Mike Silverman, a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center in New York City. This will help move the load from your knees to your legs. Use a foam roller to keep your IT band loose and mobile, and keep your hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves limber with dynamic stretches (like these 6 Active Stretches You Should be Doing).
Relieve it: “If you do develop runner’s knee, foam rolling is a great way to reduce symptoms,” Silverman says. In addition, ice your knee and use elastic therapeutic tape, like Kinesio or KT Tape, to stabilize your patella as a three-pronged approach.
The iliotibial band—a ligament that stretches from your pelvis to shin along the outside of your thigh helps stabilize your knee when you run. If it becomes too tight, you might feel a nagging knee pain.
Avoid it: As with runner’s knee, strengthening your glutes is key, along with using a foam roller to knead out your IT band, Silverman says. Add mileage gradually, toss worn-out shoes, go easy on downhill running, and change directions often at the track.
Relieve it: If you didn’t roll before IT band syndrome, it’s time to start. “Foam rolling can help with the pain,” Silverman says. Add in glute, hamstring, and quad stretches too. (Get Loose! The Best IT Band Stretches.)
The plantar fascia is a fibrous band of tissue in the sole of your foot stretching from your heel to your toes. Tiny tears in the fascia cause inflammation and, with it, intense heel pain. You'll often feel it more in the morning or after long periods of sitting or standing.
Avoid it: Keep your lower legs and feet limber with stretches for your calves and plantar fascia, in addition to arch strengthening exercises.
Relieve it: If you develop irritation under your foot, a night splint can help, Silverman says. “Rolling a golf ball or frozen water bottle on the underside of your foot works too.”
The piriformis muscle in your posterior stabilizes your hip joints, maintains your balance, and allows you to shift from foot to foot. When the muscle compresses the sciatic nerve with too much force, you might feel pain in your derriere or tingling that travels all the way to your toes.
Avoid it: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: “Strengthen your glutes to prevent the piriformis from getting tight and irritated,” Silverman says. Also, core work—including your abs, back, and pelvic muscles—is key.
Relieve it: Grab a lacrosse or tennis ball to roll out your glutes, digging deep into the muscle. “Rolling both before and after you run can help decrease symptoms,” Silverman says. Keep the ball handy to roll intermittently throughout the day as well. (Try one of these 6 Ways to Relieve Sore Muscles After Overtraining.)
The posterior tibialis tendon has one important job: arch support. The tendon connects your calf muscle to the inside of your ankle. When it becomes irritated, inflamed, or torn, you might be looking at foot and ankle pain, along with arches that fall slowly over time resulting in flat feet.
Avoid it: Before buying those cute kicks, visit your local running store to have your feet assessed. Your arch height determines how much your ankle rolls inward or outward when you run, and consequently, what shoes might work best for you—a neutral shoe that allows your foot to roll naturally inward, or a stability or motion control shoe that restricts movement in one direction or another. “Making sure you’re running with the correct shoe can limit a lot of potential injuries including tendonitis,” Silverman explains. Also, strengthening your lower leg—and calf in particular—can prevent some of the pain that plagues novice runners.
Relieve it: Massage and ice the area to ease symptoms, Silverman says. Rest or switch to low-impact exercises that take the burden off your feet for a while, and consider being fit for orthotics. (If you're just getting into a workout routine, make sure you're not pushing yourself past your limits. Check for these 5 Telltale Signs You're Overdoing It.)