How to Spot the Signs of a Running Injury

Running injuries are the bane of any runner’s life. If you – or someone you know – has experienced any of the long list of possible running injuries out there, you’ll know how frustrating they can be. They stop you from training and might even prevent you from competing in a race you were looking forward to.

Like any illness or injury, catching running conditions early is the best thing, after prevention. The longer you leave an injury untreated, the worse it’s likely to get. Watch out for early warnings for running injuries and find out how to treat them.

The most common running injuries

While running is still one of the safest sports out there, it’s not without its risks. There are many different kinds of running injuries which commonly affect runners. Here are some of the most common running injuries:

  • Runner’s knee: Symptoms include pain and tenderness around your kneecap
  • Plantar fasciitis: This is a pain in the heel which happens when you damage your foot muscles
  • Shin splints: A common pain experienced while running, which often arises from overuse
  • Stress factures: Small breaks in your shin, foot and heel bones
  • Achilles tendinitis: A tight Achilles tendon which leads to irritation

There are, of course, many other running injuries which could affect you.

Are you injured? Early warnings for running injury

While it’s possible to self-diagnose, it’s always best to speak to a GP or a physiotherapist who can properly examine your condition. That said, there are some signs which can help you figure out if you might have a specific running injury:

  • You feel discomfort in your heels, especially in the morning: If you feel discomfort in your heels after running and when you first get out of bed (feeling as if you’re stepping on a hard pea), you may be suffering from early stages of plantar fasciitis, a nasty foot condition that’s worth seeing a physio about.
  • You notice swelling in your feet and legs: Puffy legs could indicate some kind of stress fracture
  • You feel pain in your heel and possibly hear a ‘creaking’ noise: This might be a sign of some kind of damage to your Achilles tendon. There are some home remedies, but it’s worth visiting a doctor for a proper assessment.

Other running injuries might be less easily diagnosed, but it’s likely you’ve injured something if:

  • Your pain doesn’t stop after you stop running: We all get aches and pains from running, and sometimes deal with fairly harmless conditions, like shin splints. However, these kinds of injuries usually stop immediately (or very soon) after you stop running. If pain in your legs, feet or joints persists for minutes, possibly even hours, after you’ve stopped exercising, it’s a sign something is wrong.
  • The pain gets more intense as you run: Another early warning sign of running injuries is that the pain gets worse the more you run. We’ve all heard about ‘running through the pain’, but you’ll instinctively be able to tell the difference between harmless lactic acid build-up and something more severe.

What to do if you think you might be injured from running

As noted above, it’s always best to consult a GP or physio, especially if your pain is really severe – there’s no reason to put up with unnecessary pain. Here are some things you can do if you’re in pain from running:

  • Stop if you feel ‘serious’ pain: As noted above, running often brings up small aches and pains. However, you’ll probably be able to differentiate between ‘OK’ pain and pain which indicates something problematic has happened. In these cases it’s essential to stop – you’ll only do more damage if you keep running. Sharp stabbing pain or aches which feel deep in the bone are especially important to watch out for.
  • 'RICE': The RICE acronym stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. If you think you’ve done yourself a damage, stop the exercise and Rest. Wrap an Ice pack or a bag of frozen peas in a tea towel and hold it to the affected area for about 20 minutes. (Do this a few times per day as you recover.) Next comes Compression, where you wrap the injured area with some kind of elasticated bandage. Finally, Elevation means you should use pillows to keep the swollen area elevated and preferably above the level of your heart to reduce swelling.
  • Make sure you’re wearing the right shoes: So many running injuries happen because people wear the wrong kind of footwear for their sport. Find a pair of running shoes which match your gait, pronation and the kind of running you do by first getting your running style analysed by experts at a running store.

Listen to your body’s early warnings for running injury

With many running injuries, your body will give you plenty of warning that something’s up. If you listen to these warnings and act early, you’ll avoid the worst of injuries and should be up and running again in no time.