Party time is over, and your mileage is going up. It’s winter and high time for trail and ultra racing. You’re getting into the thick of your training, and it isn’t for sissies. This is the point during training where those stubborn little aches and pains that have been on the back burner are now starting to cause you to stop and think; should I still be running with this?
As a runner and a therapist, I know that the minute someone tells you that you can’t run, that is the ONLY thing you want to do. I’ve been on both sides of that, and neither side is a good one to be on.
So, how do you know what to do? First and foremost, don’t ignore any pain. Your body is trying to tell you something, so make sure you’re listening. If you are having pain, there is a reason for it, and you need to find out what that reason is. It can be helpful to have an injury screening done or a sports evaluation to see if there are muscle imbalances that are causing problems. There may be something that can easily be fixed.
Secondly, the quicker you can start problem solving and treating your pain, the better off you will be. If you start addressing your pain the first day or two that you notice it, you can be back to your old self fairly quickly and maybe only miss a day or two of running. When you look at the big picture, a day or two is not going to change anything.
It’s also worthwhile to think about what shoes you are using. It is amazing how much proper shoe wear can affect your running and gait. Don’t overlook this key factor.
If, on the other hand, you try to continue to train, you may wind up missing weeks, or even months, of training. The longer you run on an injury, the worse it gets. By the time you start taking the pain seriously, you may have done some real damage that could take much longer to heal. All you will be is disappointed.
When do you NEED to stop running? When you are limping. That is when your body mechanics are changing and you are compensating because of pain. If it’s serious enough to make you limp, you shouldn’t run.
That being said, what can you do for your pain? Here’s what I tell patients: find out exactly where the pain is, then rest, elevate, and ice the area. When in doubt, ice it out. Take a day or two off from running, and either rest completely, or do some other activity like biking or swimming that doesn’t increase your pain. My favorite saying:
If it hurts, don’t do it. If it doesn’t hurt, you’re fine.
Self massage goes a long way, too.
Some aches and pains, if you ice and rest right away, will resolve. All it takes is a little TLC, and you’re back at it in a couple of days. Other, more serious issues may not resolve. If you rest and ice but the pain does not change, or if the pain is increasing in intensity and you have bruising, discoloration, and swelling, you need to get checked out. Don’t feel silly about going in to see the doctor if your injury winds up being something minor; it’s always better to be conservative with your pain. Having the peace of mind is worth it, and you will feel better about running with a minor injury when you have been assured you’re not damaging anything.
So, here are the things to look out for: increased swelling, the injury feels warm/hot, bruising or discoloration, sharp pain when you bear weight, or pain even when you’re at rest.
Run Happy. Run Long.
Amy is a marathoner and triathlete, a mother of four, an Exercise Physiologist and a Physical Therapist. She lives with her husband, Dan (also a marathoner and triathlete), and kids in Ohio.