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5 steps to prevent running injuries

A woman runs while holding a water bottle.

May 25, 2023—It's no surprise so many Americans love to run. A regular running program can boost your mood and help you build muscle, improve your lung power, and reach or maintain a healthy weight.

Despite those benefits, pounding the pavement can be hard on your body. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) reports that, in any given year, up to 70% of runners experience an injury.

How to prevent running injuries

Many running injuries are avoidable. Whether you’re training for a race or just enjoy hitting the trail, these tips from the AAFP, American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) can help you stay injury-free.

1. Make time for a warm-up. Start off with a gentle 5- to 10-minute warm-up to get your muscles ready to go, then stretch before exercising to prevent running-related injuries. Stretches that focus on the hamstrings, calves and arms may help prevent shin splints and pulled muscles.

Do it again when the run is done: APTA recommends stretching at the end of your run to boost your flexibility.

2. Consider softer surfaces. When you run, the force of your feet hitting the street or sidewalk sends an impact through your legs that's three to five times your body weight, according to the AAOS. If you can, choose softer surfaces, such as grass, dirt or a synthetic track, to absorb some of the shock.

3. Choose comfortable running shoes. Give your feet and joints the support they need. Make sure your running shoes fit well and offer the support you need. And don't forget to replace them: Shoes lose shock absorption over time. The AAOS recommends switching out your shoes every 250 to 500 miles.

Feeling foot pain? Pain in the ball of the foot may be a sign of a pinched nerve (called a neuroma). Heel pain may signal plantar fasciitis. Let your doctor know if you experience signs of either condition.

4. Pace yourself. Don't run full speed right at the beginning of your route. Increase your speed gradually to help your muscles prepare. The same applies to your overall training plan. Step up your distance goals gradually, by no more than 10% per week.

5. Give yourself time to recover. While your mind may feel refreshed after your run, your body needs time to recover. Get a good night's sleep and stay hydrated before and after your run to help your muscles heal. And don't run every day. Instead, consider cross-training with exercises like cycling or swimming.

Listen to your body

Feeling sore after exercise is one thing, but don't push through real pain. If pain is mild, take a few days off, and try the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compress and elevate) method to ease symptoms. If the pain gets worse or lasts for a week, see your doctor. And always see a healthcare provider right away if pain is severe or you suspect a serious injury.

According to the AAOS, 40% of running injuries involve the knee. If you're coping with this common problem, our guide to talking to your doctor can help you find the treatment that's right for you.


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