Healthy Running 101

Healthy Running 101

Your Quick Guide to Preventing Injury, Foot Conditions, and Lower Body Conditions Due to Running

The first time a running injury strikes you, it feels like your entire exercise regimen – built upon months and even years of hard work – shuts down. Staying fit requires dedication and discipline, so when you find your efforts “rewarded” with an injury that sidelines you for weeks, it's incredibly frustrating.

The good news? You can do a lot to prevent running injuries and common foot conditions. The trick is having the right know-how. Unfortunately, most people overlook the most common foot injury culprits that eventually take them off their feet and into the doctor's office.

Whether training for your next marathon or just running with your friends to keep fit, the FootSmart team is here to help. First, let's take a quick tour of common causes of running injuries.

What Causes Running Injuries?

If you recently felt your first runner's high during a long stretch where you used to feel winded, you might feel invincible. Understandable! But, know that injuries can happen to any runner, even you. To avoid them, learn about these common culprits.

  • Your shoes don't fit properly.
    Over 80% of "overuse" running injuries occur at or below your knee. Sadly, incorrect footwear often causes these injuries. If your shoes do not provide the right fit for your foot type, length, and width, you're at risk. (Learn more from our Refine Your Shoe Fit guide.)
  • You're increasing your level of activity too fast.
    Everyone from new runners to hardcore marathoners in training can fall into this trap. Research has shown that when you do too much too soon, you’re at high risk of an injury. While those moments of finally getting into the groove of a running routine are intoxicating, you risk injuring yourself by running too frequently, increasing your mileage too quickly, or running at too high a level of intensity before you’re really ready. Follow the rule of 10% and increase your frequency, mileage, or intensity by only 10% each week.
  • You don't use proper running technique.
    Observing your running style objectively often uncovers a wide variety of running injury risks. Overstriding, feet hitting the ground too flatly, or overly tense or loose ankles creates stress on your lower legs. The wrong running technique makes you prone to an injury, so seek the advice of a running specialist as a coach or biomechanist.

So, now that you have a sense of what causes injuries, let's review some common ones and what you can do about them.

What Are Common Running Injuries and Conditions?

For runners, injuries happen most often in the feet, lower legs, and knees. Here, we're sharing injuries and conditions that often occur, but for a true diagnosis, be sure to see a doctor or specialist.

YOUR FEET

Do you have pain near your heel that hurts worse in the morning?

Possible Condition: Plantar Fasciitis

Your plantar fascia is a band of thick tissue that stretches from your heel to your toes. Plantar fasciitis arises from overstretching this tissue. The pain hurts worse in the morning because the tissue shrinks overnight.

Also watch out for bone spurs, which are calcium deposits that form when the plantar fascia ligament at the bottom of your foot becomes inflamed. Bone spurs cause mild-to-serious discomfort when you put pressure on them.

Do you feel a sharp pain along and between your third and fourth toes?

Possible Condition: Morton's Neuroma (ball-of-foot pain)

Morton's Neuroma happens when your running style irritates or places pressure on this area of the foot. As this condition grows worse, you may feel a sharp, burning sensation and more pain around the affected area.

Do you have thick hard patches of skin on your feet that cause discomfort?

Possible Condition: Calluses and Corns

Even if you practice healthy running habits, you may develop a callus over time. These thick hard patches of skin occur because of friction and pressure, especially while running. Corns, which may cause discomfort while you run, are a specific type of callus that appear on your foot sole and at the sides of and between your toes.

YOUR LOWER LEG

Is the tendon on the back of your leg swollen, sensitive to touch, and painful?

Possible Condition: Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles injuries commonly haunt runners, especially those who work their muscles too hard. If you overload your calf muscles while running, your Achilles (the tendon on the back of your leg below your calf) becomes susceptible to Achilles tendinitis.

Do you feel pain and discomfort along the inside edge of your tibia (shin bone)?

Possible Condition: Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (shin splints)

This condition happens when your muscles pull away from the bone near your shin. Irritated and swollen muscles and stress fractures in this area cause a tremendous amount of pain.

YOUR KNEE

Do you feel an aching pain under your kneecap that flares up when you run, jog, or sit for a long period of time?

Possible Condition: Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) / Runner's Knee

Repeated stress to your knee keeps your kneecap from sitting properly in its groove, leading to the aching pain you feel.

Do you feel sharp, stabbing pain on the outside of your knee?

Possible condition: Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)

This condition is different from Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS), and instead affects the outside of your knee. Twisting your leg as you run increases your chances of getting ITBS.

If I Feel An Injury or Condition Coming On, What Should I Do?

The following techniques generally work as your first step. However, we encourage you to seek the advice of a doctor or specialist to ensure you don't require medication, physical therapy, surgery, or other kinds of treatment.

  • Rest the injury.
    Especially for conditions caused by repeated stress and irritation, give your foot, knee, or leg time to heal.
  • Stretch and strengthen the affected and surrounding areas.
    During your recovery time, certain stretches reduce the pressure on the affected area and flush out your tendons and muscles of chemicals. Stretching and developing surrounding tissue also helps limit stress in the area of your injury. For example, developing your foot muscles may help with ball-of-foot pain, and calf raises may reduce the strain on your plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.
  • Wear proper fitting shoes with the right orthotics, heel cushions, or other foot aids.
    Use footwear that matches your foot type, length, and width. If you need to adjust the fit with orthotics, do so. (To help you assess, check out our Refine Your Shoe Fit tool.) Your running shoes need to work for you, not against you. And, to preserve the fit, replace your running shoes every 6 months to a year. Keep your orthotics fresh too.
  • Follow proper running form.
    Learn to run properly, with the right form, and assess any running errors you commit that increase your chance of injury. In addition, ramp up your running activity slowly and steadily so that you safely run in a way that's appropriate for your specific intensity level. Get a handy explanation of basic form from this classic article from Runner's World.

Make Your Next Running Step a Healthy One

As you can see, you will prevent most basic injuries by wearing the right footwear, adopting a healthy (and realistic) running schedule, and knowing when to rest and heal when you become injured. Care about your feet, even when you push them to their limits.

Running shop

At FootSmart, we want to keep you on your feet and off the sidelines. So, we created The Running Shop and partnered with Running Injury Clinic to connect runners like you with quality information and running products to prevent and treat injuries. We have high standards, so we carefully review and select each and every product. When you buy a pair of shoes, orthotics, heel cushions, or other products from us, you can count on their quality with every step you take.