It’s not just major injuries that can cause pain and stop you in your tracks. Blisters – usually caused by the heel rubbing against the shoe – can be very painful. The best defence is to make sure you have well-fitting running shoes and consider wearing two pairs of socks for added protection. (If you do adopt this approach, remember to also wear two pairs when trying on or buying new running shoes.)
Sprains can be extremely painful. They are caused when the ankle twists and the ligament is stretched, often caused by the foot landing on uneven ground or slipping off a kerb, for example. They can take a while to heal, so you may need to do some other form of exercise while you recover. When you do start running again it’s a good idea to keep it strapped up, as this will help reduce the risk of a further sprain while the ankle’s still weak. If the sprain is serious or doesn’t seem to be recovering well you should seek advice from a healthcare professional.
Muscles are damaged when overstretched, causing tendons and fibres to tear. In runners, the most commonly pulled muscles are the calves and hamstrings. The best defence is to make sure you warm up before running – do a little jogging on the spot and some stretches – and cool down afterwards, by walking for five to ten minutes at the end of your session.
Shin splints – experienced as a stabbing sensation – are caused by the muscles and tendons covering the shins becoming inflamed. If it happens, apply an ice pack to the area; when it comes to prevention, your best bet is to have well-fitting running shoes and to fit shock-absorbing insoles.
Runner’s knee – pain behind or around the kneecap – is mainly caused by pounding pavements, so opt to run on softer surfaces whenever possible. Running downhill can also cause the condition, whereas running uphill is fine. If you should suffer from runner’s knee, try a knee brace, take anti-inflammatories and rest – or at least reduce the miles you are covering to allow recovery time.
The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel bone, and overuse can cause inflammation, which you experience as soreness and stiffness. In extreme cases the tendon can rupture, which is much more serious. Guard against damage by warming up and stretching, and wear well-fitting running shoes.
1. Wear the right gear: choose well-fitting running shoes and replace them regularly (a good rule of thumb is every 500–600 miles), and also make sure your clothing guards against chafing.
2. Warm up and stretch out before your run, and take the time to cool down afterwards.
3. Aim to run on even surfaces: uneven surfaces increase the chance of a twisted ankle or pulled muscle.
4. Wherever possible, try to run on softer surfaces, such as grass, which will help protect against impact injuries.
5. Don’t extend your run too quickly: aim to up your mileage by no more than 10 per cent per week or so.
6. Don’t overtrain: even if you don’t suffer a major injury, exercise can cause microtrauma – tiny tears in muscle fibres. These help the body to build more muscle where it is needed, but the muscles need time to heal and repair. Have at least one day off a week.
Date of Preparation: August 2016