A Mass General sports medicine physician shares tips about how to prevent and manage running injuries.

It’s springtime in Boston. That means people are out running. Running can be an easy and inexpensive way to get in shape and keep your body healthy. But like all athletes, runners have their share of injuries that make training difficult.

The good news is there are ways to prevent injuries.

At the Massachusetts General Hospital Sports Medicine Service, we see more patients this time of year with running-related injuries. We work with all levels of athletes, from seasoned marathoners to weekend warriors.

The good news is there are ways to prevent injuries. We have a few tricks to manage them, too. Because running is a repetitive activity that uses the same group of muscles and joints, most injuries are caused by overuse of those body parts.

To avoid overuse injuries

  • Don’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent a week. This allows you to build up your body’s ability to take on more miles.
  • Cross train. Instead of running the same number of miles every time, change your routine. Run fast bursts at an accelerated pace (a method called interval training or wind sprints), ride a bicycle or lift weights.
  • Don’t push yourself. It is OK to run if your muscles are tight. But if your ankle, knee or foot joint is causing you pain— stop running. You can do more damage and recovery will take longer.

If you get an injury

  • Stop running if your joints hurt.
  • If you can continue exercising, vary your workouts and cross train.
  • Try non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications like naproxen and ibuprofen in regular doses to treat inflammation.
  • Apply ice to the area that hurts for 20 minutes at a time after your workout. This will reduce inflammation. Always wrap ice in a towel; never apply it directly to your skin.

If your pain lasts a week or longer or it hurts while resting or placing weight on the joint, see your primary care physician. The doctor may recommend a steroid injection. Some physicians’ offices have doctors who specialize in sports medicine.

Common running injuries

Iliotibial band syndrome: Also called “runner’s knee,” this injury happens when the IT band, a leg ligament, gets tight or inflamed. Ten minutes into a run, an athlete will feel pain and may have to stop running. The pain may also be noticeable when going down steps.

Treatment: Stop running, cross train, do exercises that improve flexibility in that area and take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. If the condition worsens, a doctor may recommend a steroid injection.

Plantar fasciitis: This injury brings heel pain on the sole of the foot that is noticeable during running. The pain often feels worse in the morning.

Treatment: A prolonged recovery may be required. Try non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, ice, do calf stretches, put gel inserts in your shoes and wear night splints.

Medial tibial stress syndrome: Often called “shin splints,” this injury brings pain that is felt on the front of the legs when running. It is associated with people who have flat feet or whose foot pronates, causing most of the weight to go on the inside of the foot.

Treatment: Try shoe inserts, cross training and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. A doctor may recommend a steroid prescription.

I remind my patients that moving their workout from a treadmill to the outdoors is an adjustment. It can take a month to reach the same number of miles you had been logging on the treadmill.

But the weather will be nicer, so enjoy your run.

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Richardson Headshot

Lars Richardson, MD, is an orthopaedic surgeon in the Mass General Hospital Sports Medicine Service who specializes in athletic and traumatic injuries of the knee, ankle and shoulder. He is an orthopaedist for the Boston Bruins and is on the medical staff of the New England Patriots. He also consulted with 2016 MGH Marathon Team runners by helping them with their injury related questions.