The Run Down - The RunVermont Blog

Good Pain vs. Bad Pain

by Jess Cover on March 28, 2014 · 2 comments

in Ask the Physical Therapist

Green Mountain Rehab & Green Mountain Running Medicine Shop

“No pain, no gain” is an old saying that many people apply to all athletic endeavors.  As physical therapists, we do not believe in this saying.  Pain is the body’s way of signaling that there is a problem.

There is a difference between “injury pain” and the “muscle soreness” that develops after a race, long run, or high intensity interval workout.  Normal muscle soreness should be symmetric (i.e. left calf and right calf are equally sore), and feel aching and tight.  Typically, getting out of bed first thing in the morning, getting out of a car or standing up after a long time in a chair will be challenging times when muscles are sore.  These feelings should diminish each successive day.  Gentle movement will help – going for a walk or a very easy jog.

Twisted angle

Listen to your body

Muscle soreness is a result of microtears of the muscle fibers.  Rest/sleep, cross training, stretching, and gentle movement can help these fibers recover and they will be stronger as a result.  However, if they are pushed too hard before full recovery has taken place, there is a risk of progressing to an injury.  So, listening to the body is critical.  Do not be afraid to adjust a training plan to accommodate sore muscles.

Pain that is only in one specific area, that is sharp or burning in nature, and does not improve after a couple days of rest is indicative of an injury.  The body is signalling a problem.  Ignoring these early signals and continuing to run through this type of pain will generally lead to a more serious injury that will take longer to heal.  If pain leads to limping or changes in stride, it increases the risk for compensatory injuries in other parts of the body.

The most effective treatment for most injuries is rest in the very early stages.  A week or two of rest and physical therapy interventions after the earliest signs of an injury can often lead to a full enough recovery to get back on schedule with the training plan.  However, most people continue to run through pain for a few days or weeks, which then prolongs the recovery time and results in more time off later.

The #1 goal for any training plan should be to arrive to the starting line as healthy as possible.  The chances of having a good race are better if you are healthy and a little under trained, rather than being injured as a result of running through pain to adhere exactly to the training plan.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kiersten Hallquist March 31, 2014 at 9:43 am

If you are forced to take a week or two off to accommodate an injury, do you return to your training schedule where the injury occurred (two-weeks behind schedule), or is it acceptable to jump in where you should be?

2 Christine Hagan March 31, 2014 at 9:16 pm

Kiersten, great question . for most everyone, the training plan will have to be adjusted. Jumping two weeks ahead in the schedule would be too much for a healthy body, never mind one that is coming off an injury. It is more important to progress mileage gradually and be healthy even if it means that you don’t get in the number or length of runs you were planning. How you adjust the plan depends on where in the training cycle you are, the type of injury you are returning from, and your lifetime running experience. We are happy to help if your plan needs adjusting.

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