“No pain, no gain”. How many times have you heard this phrase applied in terms of an exercise program? It’s true that aches and soreness can occur when getting underused muscles back into shape. But genuine pain should never be disregarded when exercising, as it serves as your body’s warning system. So how can you tell if that pain’s simply warning you to back off, or if you’ve suffered a serious running injury that calls for medical attention?
As runners get back into running shape, or prepare for more strenuous levels of running, it’s not unusual to experience different types of running pain. As with all forms of physical exercise, muscle resistance often occurs when increasing running distances or adding more challenging terrain, such as running up hills or on broken or uneven ground. In addition to muscle discomfort during the run, the runner might experience minor muscle stiffness or sore muscles after arising from sleep. Such discomfort is minor and normally subsides as the runner performs daily activities. In such circumstances, the runner will also notice fewer problems with this type of exercise when it’s repeated.
In a situation where a runner experiences a more moderate form of pain, the pain is intense enough that it is distracting, it may affect the running gait, and it is persistent, not subsiding after a few hours or a night’s sleep. In such cases, running should stop as soon as such pain is experienced. Rather than a “let’s tough it out and see what happens” approach, the runner should use techniques like R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, elevate) on the injured area, and avoid running until the pain subsides. Substitute forms of exercise such as cross-training may be acceptable in the interim, but only if there is no pain while doing so. Low levels of over the counter medications like ibuprofen can also be helpful.
Not all types of running pain indicate a serious problem. But if a runner experiences aches and pains as a regular part of a running program, then he or she may want to consider making an appointment with a doctor or physical therapist. While persistent pain can be indicative of an underlying medical condition, there can be more benign reasons, like a poor running gait. But there are some real red flags that should send runners scurrying for an emergency medical appointment in the aftermath of a running injury.
When should a runner not hesitate about seeing a doctor, even if the pain is not unbearable? Medical advice should be sought if there’s no improvement to an injury after a week or two of rest and other self-treatment techniques, or if symptoms worsen at any time during this period. Any running injury that results in exposed bone or obvious joint dislocation obviously requires immediate medical attention, as do any running falls resulting in head injuries. But don’t brush off mishaps that result in no apparent injury but leave behind severe, persistent pain. Other running injuries that should be examined sooner rather than later include large amounts of swelling at the injured area, great difficulty in moving the injured area, and numbness, tingling or weakness in the injured area.
Successful recoveries from severe running injuries have a great deal to do with:
The last statement is most significant and challenging for runners, as recuperation often entails limited movement for extended periods. Runners can keep from losing all of running’s aerobic benefit by swimming or bicycling (stationary or otherwise) among other exercise options. This cross training should be done with the knowledge and approval of health care providers. Also, follow medical guidance as to when running can be resumed. When your doctor says “Wait a month”, he or she doesn’t mean running can be resumed within a week. Be prepared too, to have to regain running ground lost during your enforced abstinence. But the results after doctor’s clearance will be restored, healthy limbs and joints that will reliably carry you down the road for miles.
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