Most sports come with their typical aches and pains. Running is no exception. Particularly for new runners, certain issues tend to crop up frequently. In some cases, they’re enough to put off newbies entirely. In others, people don’t realize their symptoms are caused by their training until they’ve got a full-blown injury. But running doesn’t have to be a “no pain, no gain” sport.
In fact, many running problems can be linked to a common pitfall: “All of these issues can occur due to accelerating a training program too fast,” says Jill Murphy, DPT, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of MotionWorks Physical Therapy. You’ve probably heard the 10% rule, which applies to distance, speed and terrain, Murphy says. Avoid increasing difficulty by more than 10% per week, and you should be able to bypass the issues below.
And if you’re already dealing with any of them — we’ve got advice on what else could be going wrong and how to fix it ASAP, straight from run coaches and physical therapists.
If your first few steps out of bed feel creaky and maybe even painful, and you’ve recently taken up running, the early stages of plantar fasciitis might be to blame. This stiff, sore feeling can also crop up when walking, especially after you’ve been sitting for a long time, says Marc Luko, DPT, a certified strength and conditioning specialist.
Pain and stiffness often start off so mild that it’s ignored by new runners, Luko notes. But it’s important to be aware of it: “If the warning signs of plantar fasciitis are not addressed, it can become very painful to run and eventually, to walk as well.”
What causes it: Plantar fasciitis can be caused by a few different things, but the top reasons, Luko says, are running too much too soon, and switching to “zero-drop” running shoes abruptly if your old shoes had lots of cushioning. “This places a lot of stress on the tissue at the bottom of the foot, as it’s a big adjustment,” he explains.
The fix: If you think it might be mileage-related, ease back on your training program. And if you think it might be your shoes, make sure they’re not worn out and opt for something with a little more cushion.
This one’s not just for newbies, but new runners may be surprised by it. “Chafing is a problem seldom talked about, but an issue for every single runner,” Murphy says. Most often, chafing happens under the arms or between the thighs, but it can happen anywhere skin rubs against itself or your clothes.
What causes it: You can thank the perfect storm of heat, sweat and friction for chafing. “The longer and farther you run on hot, humid summer days, the bigger the issue becomes,” Murphy says.
The fix: “The solution is thankfully easy. There are special anti-chafing products that glide on like deodorant, or you can use good old petroleum jelly,” Murphy advises. It can also help to wear sweat-wicking clothes and select items that are seamless or that have strategically-placed seams that won’t rub. It may take some trial and error to figure out what works for you, Murphy adds. “Start out wearing new running clothes on shorter runs before utilizing them on longer ones.”
To be fair, back pain can be caused by many different things. But a sore, achy lower back the day after a run — particularly if you’re an inexperienced runner — can be related to your workout.
What causes it: “One common thing I see that leads to back pain in new runners is running form,” Luko says. In particular, holding your arms stiffly in place can trigger a sore lower back, he explains. “Instead of swinging the arms from the shoulders like a door swinging on a hinge, people tend to keep the shoulders and the entire upper extremity rigid and rotate instead from the spine. For some, this can lead to low-back pain.”
The fix: If this sounds like you, it can help to work with a run coach to correct your form. “With proper instruction on how to swing the arms during walking and then eventually running, low-back symptoms tend to get better,” Luko says. Core stability work is also key here, to ensure your back stays supported as you get fatigued.
Most people have had a blister before they became a runner. But new runners may find themselves struggling with bothersome recurring blisters — ones that develop, pop, then re-form.
What causes it: According to Murphy, blisters are often caused by socks that are too thick or thin, ill-fitting running sneakers or new running sneakers that aren’t properly broken in.
The fix: Experiment with different running shoes until you find a size and style that works for you. Once you do, stick with them and take the time to break them in. “Walk in them throughout the day and wear them on shorter runs before using them for longer training runs or running half- or full marathons,” Murphy recommends.
It can be frustrating when your knees flare-up going up and down stairs or while lunging. This type of pain can happen on a run, but especially in new runners, it often occurs outside of workouts. “Because you may not experience pain while running, you may not attribute it to the running, which can lead to the injury progressing to a point where it does begin to aggravate you during runs,” Luko explains.
What causes it: Similar to some of the other issues on this list, there are many potential causes of knee pain.
Pain behind or around the kneecap is known as patellofemoral pain syndrome or PFPS. The most common cause: ramping up your training too fast. Muscle imbalances can play a role as well, Luko says, particularly if you’re doing strength-training exercises in addition to your runs. Strength training is an asset for runners, but many exercises like lunges, squats and stepups target the quads, which can place a lot of stress on the knees. “Counterbalancing these exercises with ones that focus on strengthening the gluteal muscles can help offset stress at the knee joint,” Luko says.
If the pain is on the side of your knee, it could be IT band syndrome. The symptoms are similar to PFPS in that you may experience pain going up and down stairs, but the cause is slightly different. “This is caused by friction of the long band that runs from the side of the pelvis all the way down to the side of the knee and lower leg — the IT band,” says Amanda Olson, DPT, an RRCA certified running coach. “The root cause is poor hip strength and hip muscular fatigue, which leads to poor running mechanics.”
The fix: In addition to ensuring an appropriate training program, strengthening your hips is key to getting relief. “Exercises such as clamshells, bridges and side-lying leg lifts are helpful to build up hip strength and endurance,” Olson adds.
Shin pain can affect novice and experienced runners alike, but new runners are likely to chalk it up to muscle soreness and try to push through the pain.
What causes it: Once again, adding distance and intensity too quickly is the main cause of shin pain. This issue, in particular, can snowball and eventually result in Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, which, in the worst case, can cause stress fractures. So, letting it progress by running through the discomfort is not a good idea, Murphy emphasizes.
The fix: Increase loading slowly, but also try running on softer surfaces, such as grass or gravel, Murphy recommends. “Recognize the pain as a warning sign to decrease your activity, change your workout to non-weight bearing activities like swimming or biking and/or possibly rest completely until your pain subsides,” he adds.
Side stitches can seriously slow you down, maybe even causing your run to come to a crashing halt. They can happen to any runner, but frequently crop up in new runners.
What causes it: Often, stomach cramps are caused by poor breathing in new runners, explains Annie Gibbons, a certified trainer.
The fix: “Your diaphragm is often unable to handle the new demand. Slow down, try to take more even breaths, and stop if you need to in order to let yourself relax. Engaging your core can also help to support your new breathing demands.”
Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” and set your next goal — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.