The Health Risks Of Running

Running is without doubt one of the most strenuous forms of exercise and can take a heavy toll on your body unless your are aware of some of the risks and take preventative action. This article explores some of the health risks associated with running and suggests some practical steps to help prevent serious injury.

1. Shin splints (Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome)

These are a very common health risk for runners. It sends shooting pains up your shins and occurs most frequently in those who have recently taking up running. Essentially it is a slight weakness in the muscles that attach your foot to the lower part of your leg.

Preventative action:

– Stretch well before and after running to strengthen the muscles in that area. Over time you should notice the problem disappear as you build up muscle tone.

– If it is painful after running apply ice to your shins and make sure you rest well.

– Try running on softer surfaces like grass rather than concrete until you build some muscle tone, as grass is more cushioned to run on.

2. Joint problems

When you run you have the potential to place the equivalent load of a baby elephant on your joints. These joints are compressed with every step you take and overuse can cause them to become inflamed, painful and sore. This can lead to serious long term joint disorders unless you look after them.

Preventative measures: It is impossible to stop all of the compression experienced by joints when running but you can reduce it significantly by taking some of the following simple measures:

– Buying the right running shoes will absorb some of the strain on your joints by acting as a shock absorber cushioning some of the impact your feet experiences as it hits the ground. Be willing to spend plenty on a top of the range pair of shoes as it will make a difference.

– At the end of a period of running your muscles will have shortened and can sometimes be on the verge of spasm. Take time to stretch for 20-30 minutes as this will help the muscles and tendons to return to their full length and also ease joint pain as compressed joints are stretched out.

3. Lower back problems.

The lower back has to deal with significant pressure both from the surface you are running on and also from the effort of keeping you moving whilst you run. Fell runners and Cross country specialists can suffer significant lower back problems due to the undulating nature of the terrain and constant readjustments being made by the back to compensate, but this is also true of road runners.

Preventative measure:

– Stretch well before AND after a race. Stretching will lengthen the spine and separate the vertebrate, releasing some of the compression caused during running.

– Personally I find Yoga a brilliant form of exercise for lower back problems. Pilates is also good as both forms work on lengthening and strengthening the spine and improving the range of movement available in your lower back. I have found that since taking up Yoga my back and joints have hurt much less after running.

4. Heart Attack

It is certainly true that your risk of suffering a heart attack increases with running for some individuals.

This is because running places huge demands on your cardio vascular system, which requires increased levels of oxygen to keep muscles supplied to enable you to keep running. If you have clogged or restricted arteries, caused by high fat diets, your body can’t keep up the oxygen supply to the heart, causing the heart to stop pumping, leading to a heart attack.

Even healthy individuals can suffer from a heart attack whilst running because of a previously unknown heart condition.

Preventative measures:

– Before you take up running, not matter how well you feel, ensure you have a medical to ensure that you haven’t got any underlying heart problems.

– Eating a low fat diet will reduce furring of the arteries, caused by fat clinging to them that ultimately leads to them becoming restricted.

– Gradually build up your running miles over time to prevent a sudden strain on your cardio vascular system especially if your body is not used to it. Build up in multiples of 2 miles.

7. Muscle tears

Runners are more prone to muscle tears because of the frequency and nature of the stresses that they place on their muscles. Lactic acid, which is caused by a failure of your body to get sufficient oxygen to your muscles, builds up and attacks muscles. Muscles that haven’t been warmed up or down properly may be more susceptible to tears as the lactic acid attacks them.

Preventative measure: Ensure you stretch before and after running to give your muscles maximum flexibility and reduce risk of tears. Shortened muscles are always more prone to tearing or getting pulled.

8. Dehydration

As a runner you need to ensure that your body is well hydrated as dehydration increases muscle fatigue and exhaustion. Most people should drink 2.5 litres of water a day, but if you are running you should consider as much as 5 litres, to replace lost nutrients during a race or long distance run.


This article has examined some of the health risks faced by runners. It has to be remembered however that there are many more health benefits of running and whilst reading through this article, you may feel daunted by the number of issues raised. As long as you take some of the preventative measures detailed, you should have few worries after all there is always a risk to doing anything!