How I Stopped Getting Running Injuries

If you’ve done any amount of running, you’ve probably dealt with running injuries which can be extremely frustrating and disheartening. Today I’m sharing tips on how to stop getting running injuries and what I did to run injury-free. I’ve been running for about 12 years and doing races for about 7 years. Unfortunately I dealt with persistent running injuries for 5 of those years, particularly IT band issues. There were numerous half marathons where I had to walk for about 5-6 miles (sometimes more) because the pain was so severe.

I cried from the pain during training runs and during races. I cried even more from the frustration. I gimped around with ice packs on my knee after races, so frustrated knowing that I could have had a better time if only I hadn’t been injured and had to slow due to pain.

I vividly remember the first time I ran a half marathon without IT band pain. It was so exciting and gave me hope of being a good runner. [I’ll tell you below what got me to race day injury free.] But then the IT band issues returned again, this time with SI joint problems as I trained for a marathon.

After countless physical therapy co-pays, orthopedic surgeon visits, x-rays, hip strengthening moves, and tears, I’ve been [nearly] injury free for two years. I’ve had two injuries in the past two years and they came from fluke things, not from running (e.g. dashing down the street in J.Crew ballet flats – not advised). Being injury free is a BEAUTIFUL thing. Let me tell you how I did it and hopefully will continue to do it.

How I Stopped Getting Running Injuries

1. Yoga

The first sans-injury race came in 2008, 6 months after I starting practicing yoga. I was amazed. In 2007 I had run multiple races with severe pain (despite a prescription for prednisone to help with the injury) and was under the care of an ortho and a PT. Despite their treatments, I was still running injured. I started yoga and the IT band issues went away.

Moral of the story: My doctors weren’t looking at me holistically. Yoga addressed a root issue that I didn’t know I had and my doctors didn’t address: severely tight muscles and heel striking. (second moral: find a good doctor!)

2. Running in Vibrams

I’ve preached about this before, but honestly Vibrams changed my running life. The two years of running sans injury that I mentioned above have been the same two years I’ve been running in Vibrams. They aren’t the only reason I’ve injury free, but they are a huge part of it.

Moral of the story: Vibrams improved my running form which allowed me to put less stress on my body. No, I do NOT think Vibrams are for everyone. But they eliminated my severe heel strike which drastically reduced my injuries. You should definitely learn to run efficiently and without excess impact to your body. A good sports medicine doctor can talk to you about this.

Update: I no longer run in Vibrams but I give them 100% credit for improving my running form, primarily by decreasing my heel strike and teaching me to land lighter, so I can run in a traditional shoe now injury free. I currently run in Brooks PureConnects and Adidas Adizero Boost Bostons. 

3. Not running through pain. 

When I was training for my first marathon (which I ended up not running because of – surprise! – running injuries), I was very very hard on my body and mind.  If I had to walk part of my 18 miler run because of pain, oh well. I needed the mileage! If it hurt, I tried to ignore it and keep running. I needed to run for X minutes, no less! Besides, no pain, no gain right?? Wrong. I feel discomfort all the time when running these days. But it’s discomfort from pushing my body to run much faster at longer distances. It doesn’t feel good to really push the pace. It’s downright hard, dangit! My muscles are screaming. I’m gasping for air. But I’m not in tears from pain. If I’m feeling real pain, I stop running.

Moral of the story: There is a BIG difference between discomfort and pain.

4. Not running everyday. 

I used to believe that a workout wasn’t a “real” workout unless it involved running. Sometimes I still struggle with this belief. The elliptical feels too easy, cycling involves too much sitting, I don’t get my heart rate high enough during weight training, and does yoga even burn calories?? But part of overall fitness is being strong in many aspects and all workouts improve different parts of your body and mind. I have learned that when I run everyday I start to get injured. Yeah, that sucks but it’s true for me.

Moral of the story:  Accepting the reality that running everyday puts too much stress on my body has helped me start accepting other “inferior” forms of workouts.  And the more I let myself enjoy other workouts, the more I realized that they are not, in fact, inferior. Just different.
[For the record, I don’t, I general, think running everyday is bad as long as you don’t ignore other important parts of your overall health and fitness, and as long as it doesn’t hurt you like it does me!]

5. Listening to my body.

This goes along with #3. Vibrams significantly helped my injury rate, but they weren’t the only cure. I still feel IT band tightness. I sporadically feel tender in my ankles and feet. But instead of pushing through pain, I acknowledge it and take a few days off (more if necessary) until the pain goes away. I do an extra yoga class. I spend more time on the bike and less running. Two weeks of reduced/no running is much better than dealing with bigger issues down the road for much longer.

Moral of the story: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! Trust your gut instinct on whether or not you should keep running. Learn to trust yourself with identifying pain vs. discomfort. 

How do YOU avoid running injuries?

The disclaimer you knew was coming: I’m NOT a doctor. This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any injuries you have or prevent any you may have at some point in the ever distant future. I’m simply sharing what worked for me. Now commence with sharing your experiences.

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  • feener

    i so need to do yoga or strength. i also believe in not doing back to back days or at least always hard/easy, not 2 hard days in a row. i also recently went to a chiropractor who did ART and find that it really helps.

  • Larkin

    Hi Terri- thank you SO MUCH for this post. I literally just came back from a run that I decided to walk most of because I was in pain and felt a little off. I too have struggled with running injuries and it’s really helpful to see all the things I’ve been thinking written out. Hope you keep up the injury free running. And thank you!

  • Lauren

    I could definitely afford to listen to a few of these. I’ve been guilty of running through the pain of so often and although I’m definitely getting better at this, I still feel the need to run almost every day. Teaching spin has been a great diversion from that though.

  • Alysha @shesontherun

    I have runner’s knee and I completely agree with the yoga. it’s amazing how tight areas can affect completely different parts of the body. Since I also have flat feet, wearing orthodics and doing hip strengthening exercises helps too.

  • Katie @ Healthy Heddleston

    Great tips! Love love! My husband and I both have Vibrams and he has benefitted from them SOOO much! I on the other hand can only run short distances in them because my left two little toes get a pinched feelings. I recently bought a minimalist shoe (where the toes aren’t separated) and am going to see how those work out!

  • janetha

    Easy! By not running! 😉

  • Jamie @ Don't Forget the Cinnamon

    I’ve also struggled immensely with IT band issues due to my malformed hips (darn you hips!!!) For me, it took taking several months off of running to focus purely on strengthening my hips and butt. And I also avoid running daily and listen to my body! In the summer when I can stand ice touching my body, I ice after every run as well, even if I’m not feeling any pain, just in case there’s a teensy bit of inflammation.

    Two years injury free-wow!!!! That’s awesome!

  • Becky

    Thanks for sharing all of this. I have battled shoulder and neck issues and after spending every last penny I had on orthopedic surgeon visits, scans, chiropractic adjustments and months of PT, I discovered yoga. It has changed everything. I wish I could have all that money back that was really just thrown away on things that really didn’t even scratch the surface of helping my body. Also, I started walking and running with Nike Free 5.o shoes about 2 years ago. I used to have hip issues, a knee popping issue and also shin pain with running. I have not had even 1 single issue with any of that since I bought my Nikes. It’s amazing what a bare-foot running shoe can do for me! I will likely step down to the 3.o on my next pair. I am passionate about sharing with others the benefit of yoga and the barefoot running shoe. Glad to hear you are too!

  • MacKensie Gibson

    I had the EXACT same experience when I started running in my Vibrams. I didn’t even realize how severe my heel strike was, and now I run in simplistic running shoes, but I’ve kept the form that I started with my Vibrams and my knee injuries have almost completely disappeared. I am so thankful.

  • Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed

    I”m on the other side, I was running in a minimalist shoe when I started but then started to get really bad hip pain, which all went away once I got some more supportive Mizuno’s. Right now I’m dealing with some knee pain from tweaking my knee tripping over something a few weeks ago. The big races I’ve been training for since January are coming up this weekend and at the end of the month, so I’m just trying to find a balance between being prepared and getting injured. I’ve definitely been taking some extra rest days and ice is my friend!

  • Abby

    definitely agree with all of these–especially the Vibrams! I haven’t had any more than minor aches and pains since i started incorporating minimalist running into my life. I’ve been slipping on it recently tho..gotta get back to it!

  • Sarah

    I suffer from ITBS and you’re right-it HURTS!!! I tried stability shoes, a knee band, extra stretching and only running 2-3 days a week. It helped a little, but I still couldn’t add mileage without significan pain/limping. Any run more than 2.5 miles was going to lead to pain. About 2 months ago, I finally bought the foam roller. Holy Cow-what a difference. Just this morning, I ran a quick 4 miles PAIN-FREE-which was impossible 2 months ago!

    This is what I do/use now to prevent injury/pain:
    1. Use foam roller before and after each run (it hurts so good!)
    2. Additional Stretching
    3. Running only 3 days a week
    4. Weight lifting/cross training

    I’ve been seriously considering trying the Vibrams. I was worried about using them when I had so many problems with my IT Band. I’m glad to see that it’s helped you.

  • Mrs Type A

    Love this! I try to be conservative so as to not injure myself. I rarely run two days in a row, and if I do, it’s usually one day doing intervals and one day doing a slow, consistent jog.

  • Faith @ For the Health of It

    Thank you for this! I’m trying to build up mileage wisely for a future half marathon and I’m actually pretty freaked about overtraining and getting hurt. I’m hoping that running only 3 (maybe 4) times a week and counterbalancing with plenty of stretching and yoga will help keep injuries at bay. It’s great to hear from a seasoned runner that I’m on the right track!

  • Claire @ Live and Love to Eat

    I stopped 1/2 marathon training last year due to a tendon tear and this year thanks to ITBS. I feel like it’s God’s way of telling me I’m not meant to be a runner! I did recently up my yoga practice, and I hope some day to complete a half – injury free.

  • Carrie

    Stretching regularly has helped me tons, as has foam rolling and running SLOWLY for most of my runs.

  • Ann

    YOU (your encouragement and advice) were a huge help in my ITBS recovery last fall. Now I’m a regular yogi (well, I TRY at least, ha!), stretch more often (sadly, not always), foam roll when I feel especially tight, and am religious about sports massages when I train for a race. I haven’t tried Vibrams yet, but I’m so intrigued…maybe some day!

  • lindsay

    I’m having ITBS or knee pain right now and haven’t been able to run for 6 weeks. It’s killed my half marathon training, and after some strength training and suggested stretches/ST from a sports therapist, tried running 1.5 miles on Monday. I had to ice and ace bandage on Monday and Tuesday due to the pain. I’d been meaning to add more yoga in to my life, and I think this injury is the right thing to get me to finally do it.

  • Shalayne Villarreal

    I’m a yoga believer! Love yoga and I think it does SO much for the whole body (and mind too). I’m glad to hear that is part of what you attribute less injuries to – I’m a big believer.

  • Stephanie @ Macaroni and Cheesecake

    I’m so glad to hear that yoga helped you not be so tight. I had a foot injury this fall and they told me it was a direct result of extremely tight muscles in the backs of my legs. I’ve been stretching and foam rolling but haven’t tried yoga yet. Great call on the not running everyday too, my Physical Therapist told me not to do heavy weight bearing activities two days in a row and it has seemed to help. Hopefully we all stay injury free!:)

  • Tan

    This is a great post! I completely agree with the listening to your body suggestion. When training for my 2nd 1/2 marathon (could not do my first due to knee pain), I only ran 2-3 times per week, did pilates and taught 3 cycling classes for cross training. The key for me was to not run as much and incorporate pilates – I had zero injury pain for my race! I love reading what has worked for others 🙂

  • [email protected]

    What a great post! I totally agree with everything you said. After two running injuries I have switched to chi running (mid foot strike), integrated pilates into my workout schedule and cut back on running too many days in a row. It is so frustrating to be injured and I am hoping that these changes will keep me injury free 🙂

  • Whitney @ Whit Likes Fit

    This is a great post. I’ve struggled with IT band/knee injuries for 3 years and it’s horrible. I just want to be able to run without pain. I’ve done 2 rounds of PT, acupuncture, Dr’s, Orothos, MRIs, pilates… and I’m just now slowly starting to hurt less. My most recent PT has been awesome. She’s the 1st person who has stressed stretching! And she also encouraged yoga. My IT and knee pain is connected to tight hips and so really loosening those us has helped immensely.

  • Ashley M. [at] (never home)maker

    This is a great post. I’m about to start yoga up again because I am plagued with IT issues. I am also hoping to experiment more with Vibrams when the weather gets warmer. Thanks!

    • Teri [a foodie stays fit]

      ugh I’m so sorry! IT band issues are so frustrating and painful. I hope the yoga and Vibrams help you!

  • Rachel

    Yes! I don’t know about you but I ran track in high school where running every day was ingrained in my brain, so the whole “don’t run every day” thing was really hard for me to grasp, but once I implemented a roughly every-other-day routine it made a HUGE difference. That and I got my running gait analyzed, plus focus more on hip strengtheners, stretches, and yoga. World of difference, I haven’t been injured in 3 years!