As far as workouts go, running is high impact, which is both its blessing and its curse: Regular jogs will get you in shape quickly, but if you don't start out slowly, they can also wear your body down. To reap the benefits of running -- toned legs and a stronger heart -- and avoid and treat common injuries, read on.
Foot Pains: Plantar Fasciitis & Achilles Tendonitis
Why it happens: There are 26 bones, 33 joints, and 112 ligaments in your foot. When you run, your feet hit the ground about 1,500 times per mile with a force that's three to four times your body weight. So a lot can go wrong down there. "Plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tissues extending from the heel bone through the arch and to the toes, is without question the most common injury I see in runners," says James Christina, DPM, director of scientific affairs for the American Podiatric Medical Association. It mainly strikes people who run too far, too soon, he adds.
You know you have it when: You feel a sharp pain right under your heel when you step on it; it's usually worse first thing in the morning (you may also feel it in the ball of the foot at the end of your stride).
How to ease it: Christina recommends taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, and taking a break from jogging for four to five days. If it still doesn't feel better, see a doctor. You may need insole inserts.
Another common woe: Achilles tendonitis, which is an inflammation of the tendon that connects your calf muscle to your heel, says Nicholas DiNubile, M.D., clinical assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. You'll feel chronic pain in the back of your ankle. There may be swelling and the area will feel tender to the touch. The cause and treatment is generally the same as it is for plantar fasciitis. Both conditions also benefit from light calf stretches.
Why they happen: The tissue attaching your shin muscle to the underlying bone gets overloaded and strained. They primarily afflict people with very low arches, whose feet, by nature, overpronate (or roll inward) when they run -- which puts extra pressure on the front of the calves, says DiNubile.
You know you have them when: The front of one or both shins feels sore and sensitive to the touch.
How to ease them: DiNubile recommends icing the area after exercising -- but in most cases, you can run through them (especially on softer terrain like grass or packed paths). Doing moves to strengthen your shin muscles can also help. Try wrapping a resistance band (available at sporting good stores) around something low and stationary (like the leg of a dresser); while seated on the floor, put your feet in the band and extend your legs straight out in front of you. Scoot away from the stationary object so that there's tension on the tubing. Then slowly flex your feet up toward your body as far as you can; hold for 30 seconds; release and repeat 15 times, several days a week. If the problem doesn't clear up in a few weeks, though, see your doctor to rule out a more serious problem, like a stress fracture.
Why they happen: "Because of women's wider hips and the way our thighs angle in -- which places more strain on the knees -- we tend to have more pain here than men," says Millar.
You know you have them when: Your knees ache during your run or feel stiff afterward, especially when going up or down stairs.
How to ease them: Strengthen your quads. Lynn Millar, a professor of physical therapy at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, recommends wall sits: Lower into a squat with your back against a wall (imagine you're sitting in a chair, knees bent 90 degrees and aligned directly over toes); hold for as long as you can, aiming for at least one minute. Do two times, three days a week.
Why it happens: "Often it's caused by one leg being slightly longer than the other, or from constantly running outside on a banked surface (like the same side of the road or trail), which has the same effect," says DiNubile.
You know you have it when: You feel anything from soreness to a shooting pain in your outer hip.
How to ease it: He suggests icing and stretching the area. If you suspect a leg-length discrepancy may be the cause, see your doctor. Otherwise, try varying your running route and see if that helps.
Why it happens: "Typically, it's due to a muscle imbalance," says DiNubile. "Jogging tightens your back and hamstrings, and unless you have strong abs to counterbalance them, you'll put excess strain on your lower back."
You know you have it when: You feel pain in your lower back after you run (the kind that can give you the bent-over granny walk). Or, says DiNubile, the ache may be located even lower, on a butt cheek (something people often confuse with hip pain).
How to ease it: Do core-strengthening exercises like crunches. Or better yet, he says, add in some Pilates or yoga sessions, which will tone your abs and, at the same time, limber up other areas of your body that running can tighten.