Running doesn’t always feel good, whether you’re dealing with running injuries or just the run-of-the-mill running aches and pains. Sure, those of us who run regularly say that it gives us life and makes us feel wonderful. But at the end of the day, running is a high-impact exercise, meaning your entire body take a bit of a beating when you pound pavement for a prolonged amount of time.
If you’re a beginner runner, your body isn’t use to the repetitive motion, and you’re likely to end up with some aches and pains. That doesn’t always mean you’re 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. That’s not really an injury.” 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 professional 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 the four most common overuse injuries that physical therapists see in beginner runners, and how they typically suggest treating them. These types of injuries occur when you train too hard too fast and your body doesn’t have time to adapt. Most of them start out minor, but will get worse if you keep pushing too hard.
1. Runners 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 up hill, 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 knee cap 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 fix it: This is something most runners can deal with and will attempt to run through, Gallucci says. But (surprise!) that’s not a good idea. “If not properly managed, patellofemoral syndrome can progress into a more severe injury that would require surgical intervention, such as a fissuring or fracturing of the patella,” he says.
Initially, you should stop running and try to limit inflammation—taking anti-inflammatory mediations such as ibuprofen can help. Then, work on strengthening your hips, says Ferber, who co-authored a study on the benefits of treating runner’s knee with hip and core exercises. Here are the specific exercises he recommends.