It’s hard enough to muster workout motivation to hit the gym, and now you’re dealing with a crippling side stitch and some uncomfortable armpit chafing to boot. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent and treat these minor setbacks. We tapped Harry Pino, PhD, MS, senior exercise physiologist at New York University Langone’s Center for Musculoskeletal Care, and Hillary Brenner, a New York City-based podiatrist, to break down what’s causing these pesky problems, and how to find relief.
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8 Workout Injuries You Can Totally Avoid
1. Skin Burn
What is it: Some exercises, like sit-ups and forearm planks, can cause burns or rashes between your skin and the floor underneath you. In gym lingo, it’s called “monkey butt” or “road rash.” Pino says, “Another reason you might be getting these burns is the type of clothing you’re wearing.”
How to prevent it: Exercise with a mat or towel to help protect your skin and provide support. Avoid cotton shirts and opt for clothing made with sweat-wicking material.
How to treat it: Keep the area clean by washing it with lukewarm water and avoid taping it so your skin can breathe. You can also apply some topical ointments and gels, like Neosporin and Vaseline, on the area to promote healing.
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What is it: Clothing-to-skin (or skin-to-skin) friction can cause major irritation, often in the form of inflamed red welts. Runners most commonly experience chafing from running long distances, but you can also get it from doing high-intensity workouts.
How to prevent it: Many runners, especially beginners, go out and run in basketball shorts and cotton socks. Pino says. “This is going to keep the moisture on your skin and it’s not going to breath well, causing skin irritation.” Other than wearing light, breathable clothing, washing your workout gear thoroughly can help prevent chafing, Pino says. Dried sweat on clothing can create unnecessary roughness and cause discomfort. Before races, make sure to test gear ahead of time. “Don’t buy a new race outfit at an expo and wear it the next day,” Pino says.
How to treat it: Wash the irritated area with a warm wash cloth and let your skin breathe by not covering it. Refraining from activity that can cause abrasions on that skin area for a few days may also be beneficial.
3. Black Toenail
What is it: In runner lore, losing a toenail is a badge of honor. But what’s going on under the surface might not sound that covetable. Black toenails typically develop when your toenail rubs (or jams up) against ill-fitting shoes while running for an extended period of time. That repetitive trauma can cause the nail bed to fill with blood, and the nail will eventually fall off.
How to prevent it: Purchase shoes a tad bigger than your usual size or avoid wearing thick socks that make your feet feel extra snug. Pino recommends leaving a bit of space between your toes and the toe box of your shoes to help prevent bruising on your toes. Another tip: Keep your toenails trimmed — but not too short, which can leave sensitive skin exposed.
How to treat it: If you do run across a black toenail, keep it clean and dry, and let it fall off naturally, he says. Avoid taping your toe up because it will lock in moisture and breed bacteria that can be harmful to your toe. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, using the RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) method can help you recover more quickly.
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4. Swelling of Fingers and Toes
What is it: We lose electrolytes — essential minerals our body needs to function — when we sweat during a workout. This can cause swelling in your hands and feet. Swelling occurs most commonly while working out in hot weather, when you’re most prone to dehydration.
How to prevent it: It’s as simple as drinking water. When your fingers and feet start to swell, it’s a sign that you aren’t drinking enough of it. It’s also a sign that you’re low in saline, an essential mineral for nerve and muscle function. “Saline is a product that helps speed the hydration process post-race or workout,” Pino explains. “Professional athletes might use IV saline methods, but it’s really just about getting that sodium back in your body with sports drinks.” One more pro tip: If you’re prone to swelling during workouts, remove rings and other jewelry to prevent discomfort and pain when your extremities start to swell.
How to treat it: The swelling will recede naturally, but to help quicken the pace, hydrate well post-exercise (or during) with an electrolyte drink.
5. Calluses and Ripped Hands
What is it: Calluses are a skin build-up on the hands and feet from running or gripping a bar, dumbbell or kettlebell while doing repetitious movements. When these calluses become big or sensitive enough, they can rip.
How to prevent it: Pino recommends using straps or wearing gloves to help protect the sensitive parts of your hands. You can also try removing calluses by rubbing a pumice stone around the area while you’re in the shower. Be sure to use the pumice stone with care so you don’t risk further irritation (or worse, infection).
How to treat it: Take caution before slathering on lotion and moisturizers on your hands and feet. Pino says, “Adding moisture to a callus will only make it weaker and more likely to rip the next time you do a callus-heavy exercise.”
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What is it: When your toes are boxed into your shoes, your big toe moves toward your second toe. This can cause a bunion form on the edge of your toe. People with high arches or flat feet are more prone to bunions than others. The friction between the toe and bunion can cause uncomfortable pain.
How to prevent it: Your favorite kicks might be a little too small. To help ensure you have the right shoe size, follow Brenner’s four-rule test when you’re considering buying new shoes:
- Check that the toe box bends upwards slightly.
- Make sure the shoe does not bend in half.
- Check for a good thick arch.
- Look for a wide chunky heel.
How to treat it: Unfortunately, bunions are permanent, but some topical gels and creams may help ease inflammation and discomfort, Brenner says. Here are some other ways you can help reduce pain.
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What is it: A feeling of lightheadedness, which can also impact your vision.
How to prevent it: Dehydration is the main cause, Pino says, but lack of key nutrients, like B vitamins, can also play a part. Check out these healthy recipes rich in vitamin B.
How to treat it: If you start to feel dizzy or disoriented during a workout, it’s best to immediately stop what you’re doing. Rest and hydration can help, says Pino. If the issue persists, you’ll want to reach out to your doctor ASAP.
8. Upset Stomach and Side Stitches
What is it: You know that painful ache on your side that cripples your every breath? That’s a side stitch or cramp. Gastrointestinal (GI) issues, like stomach aches and diarrhea, are also extremely common during and post-run.
How to prevent it: “Carb loading is the biggest mistake we do,” says Pino. According to Pino, when you carb load the night before a race (think: piling up on simple sugars, such as white pasta), you don’t have enough time to fully digest them before toeing the line the next morning. Digestion slows the absorption of water in the body, so while you’re running, your body is still trying to digest the food, which can make you dehydrated. Mid-race GUs, gels and gummies (made with processed sugars) may also cause discomfort among athletes with more sensitive stomachs. If you know this is you, best to avoid them completely and seek out alternative energy sources.
How to treat it: Unfortunately there’s no quick fix to quell an aching tummy. Your best bet is to plan ahead. Pay close attention to how your body reacts to various types of fuel (keeping a food journal will help). You might also want to consider carb loading and hydrating up to two to three weeks leading up to the race, Pino suggests, to allow your body ample time to break down the carbs into glycogen.