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Running Through Pain

Running season is about to begin. Then again, does it ever really end? We had a successful half marathon from Topeka to Auburn, and it looks like people trained very hard for it. 

Let’s talk about running through pain. This is a subject near and dear to my own heart because I deal with this conflict in my own head being a runner and a sports medicine physician at the same time. I think this is a subject that most runners grapple with at least once during their careers, and I also believe there is no one protocol to follow when dealing with pain during running.

So when do we stop? When do we keep going? Those are the fundamental questions we pose to ourselves on a regular basis during training. What kind of pain is bad? When can we run through the pain? Are there certain areas on the body that we should immediately stop if we feel them?

There are certain examples that are obvious. If we are running and feel a sharp pain followed by inability to bear weight and swelling in an area after a significant injury during the run (i.e. a rolled ankle), or there is chest pain and shortness of breath during the run, this is an obvious indicator that we should stop and see our doctor or head to the emergency room. But what about the smaller, more nagging pains? 

I have a general rule as a physician, which is if pain gets worse during the course of a run, stop. If pain stays the same during a run, slow down, if still present, stop. If pain goes away during a run, keep going. 

This may seem pretty generic to some, and I’m sure many can think of times when this rule wouldn’t have helped. But remember, it is a general guideline to use that always has exceptions.
Nagging injuries to runners can become more severe injuries if left alone or ignored. I usually tell my runners to adjust how they run when they are dealing with smaller injuries. There is no need to stop unless it violates the first part of the general rule. However, the worst thing we, as runners, can do is to not adjust our running schedule to help our injury. This can be done by simply giving more rest days during the week, using cross training more often instead of run days (i.e. biking, swimming, elliptical), decreasing speed of runs or decreasing distance of runs. If none of these help the pain, then it is time to see your physician for further help. 

The last thing to talk about is the type of pain. This is a difficult part of pain to understand, and there is no solid answer to which pain is worse because people interpret pain in their own bodies differently. Once again, I turn to my general guideline, and no matter what the pain feels like, if we follow those rules, we should know when to keep going and when to stop.

I hope you all find this helpful, and I wish you all a happy running season. See you out on the trail!

Dr. Michael Messmer
Sports Medicine Physician
St. Francis Health Center
Hunter’s Ridge

Posted by MMessmer on 01/30/2012 at 10:57 AM Add Comment

Contributor Profile
 Michael Messmer, D.O.
 Sports Medicine Physician
 Dr. Messmer, board certified in family practice and sports medicine, is a physician at St. Francis Family Medicine at Hunter's Ridge. He enjoys martial arts, hockey, sucba diving, weight lifting, backpacking and camping. He also speaks Spanish.