How to Know When Running Through Pain is a Bad Idea

Kristan Dietz
by Kristan Dietz
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How to Know When Running Through Pain is a Bad Idea

When did running through pain become a badge of honor? So often social media is filled with tales of runners bragging about completing an arduous run despite a nagging injury. Oh, social media. However, this mindset can be extremely detrimental to your training and health.

It’s OK to run through soreness, but pain is a different story. Find out how to tell the difference between those twinges in your muscles and when you absolutely need to take some time off.

ASK: IS IT SORENESS OR PAIN?

Figuring out whether your body is experiencing a temporary ache or the start of an injury is important. It means the difference between completing a run and taking a break.

After a particularly fast or long run, you may experience delayed onset muscle soreness, otherwise known as DOMS. The accompanying muscle achiness typically lasts 24–48 hours and sometimes extends up to 72 hours. Don’t fear — this type of soreness is not a bad sign.

“DOMS is required for muscle development,” says Abby Bales, DPT, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of Reform Physical Therapy in New York City. “The muscle breaks down and then builds up. That’s how you build up strength and endurance.”

Soreness tends to feel better with movement, so there may not be a need to take a day off. Just keep your mileage light and pace easy. The first minutes or even miles of a run may feel achy, but it should get better as you keep going.

Pain is much more serious and can manifest in different ways. It also tends to occur with a specific movement. Sharp or dull, sudden or prolonged — anything that feels new and doesn’t get better with a few days off is cause for concern. If you are still feeling sore from a workout after 72 hours, it’s time to assess what’s happening to your body.

“You really have to know the difference between what sort of achiness you normally feel with running a long distance or a fast pace versus what is new, what is persistent and what doesn’t go away with rest,” says Bales.

IF IT’S PAIN: STOP RUNNING

So many runners think they can run through pain and it will eventually subside. However this is rarely the case. More often continuing your training turns what was originally a minor injury into something major.

“Pain is usually an indication of inflammation,” says Bales. “There’s a hot spot somewhere in your body that will usually get worse if you keep doing what you’re doing.”

Training through pain also leads to a change in running form. Bales notes that an injury often forces runners into a pain-avoidance pattern, where they depend more on the side of the body that is not hurt. This leads to an asymmetrical gait that can cause even more issues if left unaddressed.

WHEN SHOULD YOU SEE A DOCTOR?

If you feel anything that can be categorized as pain or an injury that isn’t getting better with rest, stop training immediately. There is no benefit to running through injury.


READ MORE > THE MOST COMMON RUNNING INJURY WILL SURPRISE YOU


Take a few days off to see if the pain subsides. If so, return to your running very cautiously. However, if your injury in still present, it may be time to seek a doctor or physical therapist to address the cause. Never feel like your injury is too minor to warrant a doctor’s visit. Specialists are happy to treat runners, especially when they can help them prevent a major setback.

“The longer runners wait, the more the injury festers, the worse the pain gets, the more damage they are doing and the more lifelong damage they are doing,” says Bales. “Our goal is to figure out why you had the injury in the first place, treat the injury and try to get you back into doing what you want to do.”

Don’t try to be a hero by running through pain (and certainly don’t Instagram the occasion). Instead feel stronger knowing that by taking care of your body, you’ve set yourself up for years of healthy running.

About the Author

Kristan Dietz
Kristan Dietz

Kristan is a freelance writer, editor and social media specialist. Her work has appeared in Women’s Running and Competitor Running. She resides in Hoboken, NJ with her husband and 2-year-old son. Find her on Instagram at @kstandietz and Twitter at @kristandietz.

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