As any runner can tell you, pounding the pavement is not all runner’s high—there are aches and pains that come along with it. Running injuries can run the gamut from annoying to sidelining, which is why it’s important to accurately identify what’s going on.
“Runners get a whole long potential list of things that can hurt in the legs as you start to run,” says John M. Vasudevan, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical physical medicine and rehabilitation in the sports medicine department at Penn Medicine, tells SELF. “Some things are muscular, some things are tendons, and some are with bone, and many can present similarly.”
Running is a high-impact exercise, meaning your entire body takes a bit of a beating when you run for a prolonged period of time.
If you’re a beginner runner, your body isn’t used to the repetitive motion, and you’re likely to end up with some aches. That doesn’t always mean you’re actually injured, Reed Ferber, Ph.D., researcher at the University of Calgary and director of the Running Injury Clinic, tells SELF. “Running hurts—you need to prepare yourself for that,” he says. “But if the pain gets better, or goes away as the run goes on, that’s a good thing.”
It takes your body some time (maybe even a few months) to adapt to the new stress you’re exposing it to.
But if the pain persists, gets worse throughout your run, or goes away while you’re running but comes back with a vengeance when you stop, those are signs you could have an actual injury. Ferber says the best thing to do is stop running and go see a health care provider to figure out what’s going on before you cause any permanent damage from your running injuries.
There are a lot of ways you can sprain, strain, tweak, and tear yourself when you run, but below, we’ve laid out five common injuries for beginner runners. Here’s what you need to know about each so you can run for the long haul.
1. Runner’s knee
What it is: “Patellofemoral pain syndrome, more commonly referred to as runner’s knee, is a dull, achy pain that originates underneath your kneecap and is typically felt during running, especially uphill, walking down stairs, or when moving from a sitting position to a standing position,” John Gallucci, Jr., M.S., D.P.T., president and CEO of JAG Physical Therapy, tells SELF.
This is the most common running injury, especially for new runners, Ferber says. He notes that for some people, the pain may start at the beginning of the run, subside throughout, and then pick up again as soon as you stop running.
What causes it: “It’s a grinding injury,” Ferber says. There’s cartilage under your kneecap and also along your thigh bone, and a layer of fluid in between the two works as cushioning, Ferber explains. He says to think of the kneecap as a train, and the thigh bone (femur) as the train track. When the hips are weak, the thigh bone loses its stability and moves underneath the kneecap. “The railroad track starts moving. Those pieces of cartilage start to rub together, and that’s what causes the pain,” Ferber explains.
How to treat it: This is something most runners can deal with and will attempt to run through, Dr. Gallucci says. But (surprise!) that’s not a good idea. “If not properly managed, patellofemoral syndrome can progress into a more severe injury that could require surgical intervention, such as a fissuring or fracturing of the patella,” he says.