The 5 common injuries every runner should know (and how to avoid them)

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Photo: Tamara Pridgett by Tim Gibson for Well+Good
Whether it’s due to rusty muscles, crappy shoes, or bad form, studies show that a large percentage of runners get injured—particularly when they’re first starting out.

No surprise, considering that there’s a total learning curve. “Over time, the musculoskeletal system adapts to stiffness to propel itself over ground,” explains Wendy Winn, a physical therapist and director of Manhattan’s NY Custom PT & Performance, who has focused on helping runners for 10 years. “A new runner will become more efficient over time,” she explains. And, Winn adds, everyone who tries to take up running goes on a journey of self-transformation.

The trick? Doing everything you can to prevent the most common injuries early on in your training, so you can get to that magic place where running just totally clicks.

Here are five injuries that are incredibly common among running newbies—and how to avoid them. 
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What is runner's knee
Illustration: Julia Wu

1. Runner’s Knee

What it is: Anterior knee pain, which is typically caused by too much bending in the knee during landing, over-striding, and taking on too many hills, Winn says. Research has shown it strikes women twice as often as men.

Symptoms: Pain on the front of the knee or under the knee cap.

How to avoid it: “Pay attention to your landing mechanics, and don’t spend too much time on the ground,” Winn advises. Try these drills for better form, and strengthen your gluteus maximus for support. Yep, it’s super important to keep strength training while you’re embarking on a new cardio routine.

What is plantar fasciitis
Illustration: Julia Wu

2. Plantar Fasciitis

What it is: The connective tissue on the bottom of your foot (the plantar fascia) becomes tight and irritated, typically because of worn-out shoes, or shoes that aren’t right for you. Tight calves are another culprit, Winn says.

Symptoms: Pain and tightness in the heel, especially in the morning.

How to avoid it: Always, always stretch your calves, and if you’re really feeling pain, aim for one full minute, three times a day, Winn recommends. Equally important: Choose shoes that work for your feet and replace them when they’re worn-out. “Shoes wear out after 350 miles, depending on use,” she says. Think about how much mileage you’re clocking, and replace your kicks accordingly.

What are shin splints
Illustration: Julia Wu

3. Shin Splints

What it is: A combination of two things: Your tibia (shinbone) is absorbing too much shock, and the muscle on the front of the shin is overworked.

Symptoms: Pain at the front of the shin that’s generally worse at the beginning of the run, eases up a bit, then feels worse after.

How to avoid it: Tight calves can be a cause here, too, so stretch, stretch, stretch. Working on your landing mechanics can make a big difference, too. “Listen to your running,” Winn suggests. Like, literally. “If your foot is landing very heavily or slapping the ground, try to use your core and glutes more to absorb the shock,” she says.

What is IT band syndrome
Illustration: Julia Wu

4. IT band syndrome

What it is: The IT band—a ligament that runs from the hip down the outside of the thigh and attaches to the knee—is really tight or inflamed.

Symptoms: Pain at the outside of the knee joint, especially the day after a run, or when you’re going down stairs.

How to avoid it: Hit the foam roller while you’re catching up on Netflix in order to help break up the tissue. IT band issues are also commonly caused by weakness in the gluteus medius muscle, Winn says, which causes the pelvis to drop in landing. So try adding some side-lying leg lifts (high reps!) to your daily workout routine to help strengthen the area.

Black toenails from running
Illustration: Julia Wu

5. Lost or black toenails

What it is: Friction from your shoe bruises the toenail or causes it to separate from the nail bed.

Symptoms: Your toenails turn black or fall off—eek! (You may also have a fair amount of pain before it reaches that point.)

How to avoid it: “Feet swell on long runs, especially in the summer,” Winn explains. “Buy a half or full size bigger shoe to allow for this.” Bonus: your pedicurist will probably thank you.

No, you’re not crazy—some lucky people never get running injuries. It’s been studied!

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