Every stride of every mile would be pain-free in an ideal world for a runner. There were no pains, cramps, or residual discomfort from the workout the day before. Many runners are continually dealing with a little (or major) ailment—a sore foot, a tight hamstring, or a grumbling knee. While these niggling concerns aren’t always significant enough to warrant a time-out, they may be aggravating, especially if they prevent you from thoroughly enjoying your time on the roads.
Consider the symptoms of running aches as a spectrum. At one extreme, there are serious, full-fledged injuries—dubbed the “red zone”—including stress fractures that necessitate time off. The green zone, on the other hand, is where you’re at your best. Mild, temporary pains that emerge one day and vanish the next are common toward the green end. Unfortunately, many runners find themselves trapped in the middle—the not-quite-injured but not-quite-healthy yellow zone.
According to Richard J. Price, M.D., a sports physician at Rocky Mountain Orthopedic Associates in Grand Junction, Colorado, whether you fall in the red, remain in the yellow or return to the green end of the spectrum relies entirely on how you react when that initial lance of pain strikes.
“It’s often a choice between taking a little time off now and taking a lot of time off later,” he explains. If you back off your mileage, lessen the intensity of your runs, start a treatment program, and adopt a proactive long-term injury-prevention approach, like strength training, stretching. Frequent foam-rolling, you can lower your chances of ending up in the red zone. “Physical treatment is similar to schoolwork,” adds Price. “None of us wants to do it, but if you don’t, the problem will resurface.”
These problems can imprison you in the dark yellow zone, or worse, grow into an acute ailment that requires you to take a leave of absence if you don’t address them. Instead, let them keep nagging aches at bay so you can enter—and, perhaps, remain in—the green zone. Seven injury hotspots that affect runners are as follows: