Running is one of the most basic forms of exercise, mostly because our body is naturally made to do it. That being said, neither novices nor experts are immune to the aches and pains associated with it.
These can be a result of injuries or overtraining. Sometimes, these pains are par for the course, especially if we’re adjusting to a new speed or distance.
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However, some of these pains are signs that something is wrong. We could be placing too much stress and pressure on our muscles and joints, explains Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., personal trainer, doctor of nutrition, and owner of eatrightfitness.
“The surface you run on, the type of running shoe you wear, the distance and frequency of your runs and even the length of your stride can all increase the severity of common running pains,” he says.
“Simple soreness in the legs or aching in the joints of the lower body is normal, and should dissipate in a day or two (maybe longer, if you are a beginner). However, if this soreness lingers for more than a couple of days, or there’s significant swelling, it may be a sign of something more serious.”
Below, experts share some of the specific types of running pain that shouldn’t happen if you’re training appropriately.
Mild Leg Soreness Coupled With Extreme Fatigue
The injury that Dr. Adams sees most with his runner clients is what’s known as overtraining syndrome (OTS). “Basically, this pain is indicative of you not allowing your body time to rest and repair itself due to repeated intense or long running sessions,” he says. “This usually occurs as a runner is preparing for an event or is too gung-ho about starting their program.”
While it might sound like no big deal, OTS can be serious. It can even lead to impairment of the immune system, chronic pain and swelling, and the inability to recover from running sessions, Dr. Adams warns.
Sore knees are far from uncommon, especially if you’re running on the regular. However, they can also be the result of a muscular imbalance, improper running form, or excess body weight that’s causing extra strain on the knee joints, explains Samantha Clayton, personal trainer and senior director of Worldwide Fitness Education at Herbalife.
Another major culprit that can cause pain and swelling in the knee is tendonitis. “Strengthening the quads with low-impact exercise and weight training, especially knee extension exercises, can help to build up a muscle group known as VMO, Vastus medialis, which helps with knee stability.”
To relieve swelling, you can ice it (this wrap works great) in the evenings and try to rest as much as possible. Clayton also suggests alternating running days with low-impact cycling or swimming.
Dull Ache in the Shin Area
While this type of pain caused by running isn’t abnormal, it shouldn’t persist over a long period of time. If so, this is likely the result of a shin splint.
This is a pain that occurs in the front area, or shin, of the lower leg primarily caused by the repeated impact of running, explains Dr. Adams. “Often a change of shoes, softening the running surface, and doing a series of focused stretches after running can alleviate this pain,” he says.
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Swelling and Aching on Top of the Foot or Outside Ankles
This type of pain is most commonly the result of a stress fracture. This a repetitive strain injury caused by the constant pounding of the lower body while running.
“Most common areas of stress fractures occur in the feet, ankle, and lower leg. However, it can also show up in the hip and lower spine,” says Dr. Adams.
“Oftentimes feet or leg pain is ignored and can lead to stress fractures, as the feeling is the same as normal soreness. But the difference is that it doesn’t go way.” If you have experienced this kind of aching that doesn’t let up even after taking a few days off, an x-ray might be your best bet to rule out a more serious injury.
Intense, Sharp Pain and Swelling Near Heel
Getting some tendinitis in the Achilles tendon (the band of fibrous tissue connecting your calf muscles to your heel bone) is normal, especially when beginning a running program.
However, Dr. Adams warns that any tearing or rupturing of this tendon is not. “A rupture will most likely result in surgery and being unable to run for quite some time,” he says.
“Warning signs of tenderness along the back sides of the heel, swelling in the tendon itself, and unusually tight tendons all day long are things that must be considered serious.”
“The hip flexor muscles are notorious for getting tight. We spend so much time sitting down all day, which can lead to an uncomfortable feeling when running, especially when you’re trying to open up your stride or run fast,” says Clayton.
“Performing lots of pre- and post-workout stretches can really help to alleviate this feeling.” If the pain doesn’t subside, it may be associated with a more serious muscle tear. This would require rest and a visit to the doctor.
Grinding or Cracking When Bending or Extending Knee
Sometimes weak quadriceps muscles, muscle imbalances, excessive hill running, or overpronation can result in a knee pain that is accompanied with a grinding and cracking sound.
It’s the result of the knee and the thigh bone (femur) rubbing together (ouch is right!). In the running world this is known as runner’s knee. Doctors know it as chondromalacia and this might help with the pain.
“The cartilage becomes like sandpaper because the kneecap is not riding smoothly over the knee,” says Mindy Solkin, running coach and founder of The Running Center.
Most of the time, runner’s knee can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers and physical therapy. However, if these measures don’t address the pain, surgery may be required.
If you’re looking for running workouts once your knee is better, Aaptiv has you covered. Check out our running section in the app today.