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Youth Running Injuries

Running is a great way for the young athlete to benefit from team or solo activity and develop a foundation to live a healthy lifestyle.

Runners generally are not at high risk for injury; however, things that can lead to injury and poor performance include:

  • Lacking focus on flexibility and strength
  • Wearing improper clothing or shoes
  • Running in bad weather conditions

Common Running Injuries

  • Thigh and hip injuries:
    • Muscle inflammation
    • Hamstring strains
  • Knee injuries:
    • Knee cap pain
    • Tendonitis
  • Lower leg, ankle, and foot injuries:
    • Shin splints
    • Ankle sprains
    • Plantar fasciitis (pain in the heel or bottom of the foot)
    • Stress fractures
  • Weather-related problems:
    • Heat exhaustion
    • Heat stroke
    • Sunburn
    • Dehydration

The experts at UPMC Sports Medicine’s Young Athlete Program can work with your pediatrician to evaluate and aggressively treat your young runner's injury to help prevent more serious long-term effects.

Preventing Running Injuries

Lack of muscle strength or flexibility in any joint can change a runner’s form and potentially result in overuse injuries.

Many of these running injuries are preventable with:

Tips to Improve Running Safety and Performance

Warm up and cool down

  • Always do a light warm-up of about five minutes, followed by five to 10 minutes of stretching.
  • Stretch major muscle groups before and after running to improve flexibility and prevent soreness. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds at a level where you feel a gentle pull in the muscles.
  • When not racing, start slowly and speed up gradually. All-purpose track surfaces (e.g., a high school track) are ideal, especially for beginners. Runners should switch directions each time they run on a track.

Wear appropriate clothing

Runners should match their clothing and footwear to the weather.

  • Hot weather: Wear light, breathable clothing to prevent perspiration build-up and to help the body better regulate heat.
  • Colder weather: Wear light layers that you can removed as you warm up or the temperature changes. This allows for temperature adjustments throughout the run.
  • All weather: Running hats, head covers, or ear covers protect the skin from the sun or frostbite, while permitting body temperature control. Thick, proper-fitting socks lessen the chance of blisters.

Get the right running shoe

Proper footwear is key to safe running. The right shoes reduce the shock and stress on a runner’s feet, knees, hips, and back.

  • Different styles of running shoes are designed for different types of feet. Runners with a history of foot or arch pain should visit a store specializing in running shoes or consult a trained professional who can evaluate foot movement and determine the best shoe choice.
  • Shoes should have a finger width of space in front of the big toe.
  • Break in new shoes with several short runs before wearing them for a long run or race.
  • Be sure to frequently inspect shoes for excessive wear and replace them after 300 to 400 miles, or every four months. When shoes wear out, the rest of the body absorbs the shock as the feet repeatedly hit the ground. This extra stress overloads the muscles and joints, leading to injury.

Stay hydrated

  • Two hours before running, drink 16 ounces of fluids.
  • While running, drink four to eight ounces of water every 15 minutes. For runs longer than 60 minutes, a sports drink containing carbohydrates (sugar) is useful.
  • After running, drink, and then drink again, even if you're no longer thirsty.
  • To measure how much you need to drink to rehydrate yourself, weigh yourself before and after running. Then drink 16 ounces of fluid for every pound lost.

Run in safe weather conditions

  • Children and teenagers can’t tolerate hot and cold weather as well as adults can. They are more prone to heat illness (e.g., heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke), sunburn, and dehydration.
  • The best time to run is morning or late evening when the humidity is the lowest.
  • Avoid running between 1 and 3 p.m. or when the temperature is over 90 F (32 C).
  • Use sunscreen to prevent sunburn.

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The Young Athlete Program

UPMC Sports Medicine’s Young Athlete Program provides individualized attention for injury prevention and management. Regardless of age or sport, we have the expertise, technology, and services to make a difference for your young athlete.

Call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678) for more information or to make an appointment.

Physical Therapy

Our partner, UPMC Centers for Rehab Services, offers your young athlete physical therapy at more than 50 locations throughout western Pa.

Call 1-888-723-4CRS (4277) to find an office near you or to make an appointment.

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