Ask The Doctor

April Accumulator Pink

Who said running was glamorous? Despite being very good for your health, running can cause some ailments. Here’s how to avoid some of the most common of them… 


This is the name given to the sudden need to open your bowels when exercising. It is particularly common in runners, who can find themselves darting into hedgerows or making emergency detours to find a toilet. It can happen even if you don’t normally suffer from bowel problems and the exact mechanism isn’t known.

What to do: It’s a game of trial and error, but the following might help:

Eat slowly: Chew food properly and don’t eat on the move.

Time your eating: leave plenty of time for digestion before running – 2-3 hours for a meal and an hour for a snack.

Choose food wisely: watch out for your own ‘trigger foods’ which might be too spicy, too rich or too high in fibre. Keep a
food diary that helps to identify the culprits.

Avoid caffeine: It improves alertness and performance, but it also stimulates the gut.


The honest answer is that we don’t really know what causes the horrible pain you often get in your side – usually the right
side – when running. There are many theories but the good news is that stitches tend to happen less as you get fitter. Making sure you’ve left time for food to be digested and warming up well can help to prevent them.

What to do: If you get a stitch, try breathing deeply. Many runners say that if their stitch is on the right side, if they slow their pace and exhale as their left foot hits the ground the pain eases. Stopping and touching your toes or running with your hands on your head are other tricks to try. Remember that, while stitches are painful, they are harmless and will eventually go away.


Many runners get headaches and migraines and, while exercise can help relieve the pain, it can also trigger it in some people. Being dehydrated or hungry can set off a headache, as can running in very cold weather. Your running posture can create tension across your neck and shoulders when running long distances.

What to do: Relaxing your neck and shoulders by intermittently stretching and altering your running technique can prevent a build-up of tension. Dehydration and low blood sugar can be avoided by making sure you eat and drink before and during a long run. Bright sunlight can also trigger headaches, so limit exposure by wearing a cap or sunglasses and clothing made from technical fabrics so you don’t overheat. If your headache is sudden and severe when you run at a high intensity, you must be checked by a doctor urgently.


Blisters are the most common cause of running complaint. They form in or under the epidermis when skin is damaged, most commonly because of friction but also heat or extreme cold. They are usually filled with a clear liquid.

What to do: Don’t be tempted to pop them. The fluid is acting as a cushion to protect the delicate skin underneath and it’s sterile or germ-free. Bursting a blister makes it susceptible to infection. If they do burst, clean them thoroughly with soapy water and pat them dry before applying a sterile dressing.

Make sure your trainers fit well. Go at least half a size up when buying them. Socks are as important as shoes. You need to have the right size to prevent your toes getting squashed. Blisters develop in damp conditions so make sure the socks are made from a technical fabric that wicks away moisture. And choose socks that are seam-free.


Remember, many of these ailments are common and easily treatable, but if running is causing you severe pain and discomfort, you should stop and contact a doctor. Most running injuries are overuse ones, so spotting early warning signs are very important.  For more information on common running injuries, read this blog post!



Image credit: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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