So you pushed yourself, and now you hurt. Some people will tell you not to “be a baby” and just “suck it up”. Others will say ‘don’t push it” and “it isn’t worth it”. Ask a dozen people in the fitness community if you should train through the pain and you’ll get a dozen different opinions. I get it. You don’t want to stop running, but you also don’t want to make it worse. It can feel like you’re running in circles.
I’ve experienced my fair share of injuries during my running career. And while I’m not a medical professional and would never dispense medical advice, I can talk about my own experiences with exercise-related injuries and relay some sound advice from other fitness professionals.
Here’s what you need to know:
Pain vs. Pain
According to Carly Ryan, an exercise physiologist, “Effort and discomfort go together and that’s what most people would call good pain — you generally expect to feel some level of discomfort.” In other words – if you feel uncomfortable, it’s not necessarily a reason to sweat.
Now we can break down the difference between pain and discomfort from fatigue and soreness.
Pain comes in two forms, acute and chronic. Acute pain is an intense feeling that occurs suddenly following an incident. Acute pain is much easier to diagnose. If you break a bone or get a severe sprain, you simply treat the injury for a few weeks or months and then return to your usual routine.
Chronic pain isn’t so simple. While it may start as acute pain, it can progress to chronic based on the duration or severity. The widely-accepted wisdom from the athletic community is that you shouldn’t force yourself to suffer through extended periods of chronic pain. It only gets worse. As bodybuilder Josh Mac says, “Pain lasting that long can break a person down mentally and make the pain feel multitudes worse. Part of what makes pain tolerable is the assumption that it’s going to end at some point.”
Neither form of pain is a good thing, but identifying which type you have will help you expedite the recovery.
(Sometimes) You Need to Go to the Doctor
Most of us have probably mistaken soreness for an injury at some point or another. If you find yourself in continuous pain that you can’t quite pinpoint – don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Sometimes a pitstop at urgent care can resolve a problem in no time. Other times it might take longer with visits to specialists, like a podiatrist or physical therapist. It’s worth it. You know your body best, so trust your instincts.
Many athletes are hesitant to report injuries because they don’t want to be seen as weak or to be taken out of commission. You have to think long-term though. Ignoring pain is a short-term solution. If you push yourself with an injury and train through the pain, you may exacerbate your injury and delay your return. There’s no shame in admitting you’re hurt. Don’t be afraid to fess up to an injury.
So how do we avoid the bad kind of pain?
Practice good form. Be aware of how you position yourself when you lift, run, do yoga, etc. Remember, you train to condition your body for your fitness ventures. By practicing good form, you alleviate some of the unnecessary strain on your body that can often result in injury.
You also need to consider how and at what pace you force your body to make the transition from couch king to road warrior. Just because you wake up and decide to commit yourself to exercise, it doesn’t mean you can handle the same amount of activity of a conditioned athlete or even the person next to you at the gym. You can get there, but you need to pace yourself.
Take time to rest. I don’t mean become a sloth and only run one day a week. That’s not the solution. Work out consistently with moderate changes to your routine in order to target new muscles and develop diversified routines. And always factor in some time to rest. Pushing your body to the max every day will lead to breakdowns and blowouts.
In summary – train through the soreness and fatigue, but don’t train through the pain.